When they were seventeen, Chanyeol had asked Jongin, out of the blue, why he thought they were such good friends.
"Easy," Jongin'd said. "We're so alike."
"You think so?" Chanyeol had looked at him curiously. His eyes had always been so large and expressive. They reminded Jongin of his pretty little puppy, Jjangga.
Jongin had shrugged. "We listen to the same music. We watch the same shows. We both love video games. And we both suck at sports." Chanyeol had guffawed, and Jongin's smile had been cheeky. "The only difference between us is that I hate reading and you…can't dance."
That'd earned him a shove. "I dance just fine," said the boy with two left feet.
"Sure you do," Jongin'd teased, bumping their knees together. "Why do you think we're such good friends?"
"Me?" It was funny, how surprised Chanyeol had been to have his own question thrown back at him. Jongin had thought it was the obvious thing to do. "I'm not sure."
"Wow, thanks." Jongin had tamped down a smirk, pretending to be miffed. He dipped a finger into the garter of Chanyeol's sweatpants and snapped it against his hip.
"No, no," Chanyeol had edged away, his laugh bright and rich. There had been a short pause after that; Jongin waiting expectantly for the answer and Chanyeol's soft smile melting down like a cube of sugar.
Then he'd said, "I guess it's because I like being with you all the time."
"Uh, Yeol," Jongin had warned, "that's really cheesy."
"But I do." Chanyeol's next smile had been a little less shiny than the previous one. It'd probably been a trick of the light. "I love spending time with you, Jongin."
Then Chanyeol had reached over and snapped the waistband of Jongin's sweats to get back at him. Jongin had chased him around the gymnasium, through an ongoing basketball game, and back up to the main school building. By end of day, the red marks on their respective hips had started to itch.
Jongin doesn't know why he remembers all this on the drive back from the beach. Chanyeol is asleep in the passenger's seat, having agreed to let Jongin take over the wheel.
Every time Jongin glances at him, he takes in that soft mouth, that long neck, those eyelids that seem to be smiling even when shut, and he knows something has to give.
There is no excursion the following Friday, because Jongin goes on a date.
Her name is Nana. Jongin's got Choreo with her. He'd met her just this semester, when they'd been partnered up for a drill. Her hands are soft and hot, and every time they dance together, Jongin's palms always smell like vanilla afterwards.
Nana is nothing like Jinri. There is nothing cute about her. There is, instead, a sharpness to the curves of her body and a dangerous curl in her lipstick smile. When she shakes her hair down from its ponytail after every class, it falls in a siren's swoop over one eyelid, while the other flutters meaningfully in Jongin's direction.
"Lucky you," whispers Sehun, another dancer Jongin knows from most of his classes. "She wants you, man."
Jongin asks her out. She says yes. They go to dinner on the same day. They drink cheap wine, flirting heavily, and Nana takes Jongin back to her place off-campus.
They don't make it to the bed. Jongin presses her against a wall and hikes up her skirt as she moans into his mouth. They end up on the floor with Nana on top, her hair streaming over one shoulder as she rocks against him. She whispers hotly into his ear, and Jongin muffles a groan at the base of her throat when he comes. He can't help it.
Afterwards, Nana scribbles her number on the inside of his arm and hooks two fingers into the neck of his T-shirt to drag him down. Jongin keeps his mouth closed for this kiss.
He still reeks of sex and women's perfume by the time he gets back to the dorm. It's six in the morning, and it looks like Chanyeol has tried to wait up for him. He's sleeping on his side in Jongin's bed. He's been reading Love in the Time of Cholera again, his pointer curled loosely between the book's pages as a marker.
When Jongin shuts the door, Chanyeol stirs. "Jonginnie?" He props himself up. His voice is raspy. "Where've you been?"
It takes a minute for him to note Jongin's dishevelled appearance. And yes, right there, his face is falling, just like Jongin thought it would. He knows there's still some lipstick around his mouth. He thinks he left it there on purpose. "Were you with someone?"
"Girl from class," Jongin replies. His nonchalance sounds terribly forced. "Im Nana."
"Im Nana," Chanyeol repeats in monotone. He pushes the heel of his hand into his eyes, like he's trying to wipe the sleep from it, but he looks more shaken than anything else. Jongin's chest squeezes. "You've been seeing someone?"
"Only since yesterday."
"Did you sleep with her?" The question is soft, but Jongin can hear the quiver in it.
"Yeah." He feels so cruel. "You should see her, Chanyeol. She's stunning." The way Chanyeol looks right now, like Jongin has just pulled the rug out from under him, makes Jongin question who he's being crueller to.
"Yeah?" The base of Chanyeol's throat hollows out in a noiseless sigh. And then he smiles, and it's horrible, because it makes him look even more devastated. "I'm sure she is. You always had good taste."
Suddenly, Jongin's not sure if he can do this. His fingers twitch at his sides. He reaches up and scrubs at his jaw, hoping he catches some of the lipstick in the slide. "Chanyeol--"
"Guess what you missed?" Chanyeol interrupts. His pitch is higher now, and he's talking very quickly. "I didn't tell you before because I wasn't sure I was really going to go. But at the start of the semester I applied for this exchange student program at Tisch--you know, NYU's school of arts? It's a," Chanyeol is stuttering, "a short course for music, and I just got accepted."
The silence in the rooms swells painfully in Jongin's eardrums.
"You're going to New York?" Jongin's palms are covered in cold sweat.
Chanyeol's smile is awful. "Yeah. For six months." His eyes are focused on a point past Jongin's shoulder.
"Six months?" Just the thought of it, the emptiness of their room without Chanyeol, stings.
"Yeah. Cool, right?"
"When are you leaving?"
"Week after New Year's."
"Chanyeol, that's three weeks from now." The room is falling away from Jongin, tilting on its axis. "Couldn't you have given me a head's up?"
"I like to keep some things to myself," Chanyeol says, and there's an edge to his words. "You're the same, right? Im Nana." Silence. "I didn't think you'd be interested in someone," he licks his lips, "so soon after Jinri."
"I…we just had sex," Jongin puts in, trying to explain it away. But he's only making things worse, because Chanyeol flinches. "I don't…she's hot, but I'm..."
Shut up. Just shut the fuck up, Jongin.
He drags a hand through his hair, frustrated, aching, and so disappointed with himself. He's upset with Chanyeol, too, even though he knows he has no right to be. "I can't believe you kept this from me."
Chanyeol doesn't say a word. He has stopped smiling entirely.
Jongin's desperation bubbles up inside of him. "You should have told me about New York, Chanyeol!" It sounds like he's telling Chanyeol off. That makes Jongin feel even shittier.
Chanyeol gets off the bed. "I should have told you a lot of things, Jongin. But I didn't." The book is still in his hand, and his tone, while even, is angry. "You'll just have to deal with it."
That's how they leave it. Chanyeol brushes past him, grabs a coat and his shoes, and files out of the room.
Jongin backs up against the door and plants his face in his hands. It niggles at him, in the recesses of his mind, that he didn't say congratulations.
When they were younger, they'd only fought once.
It was years ago, and Jongin can't recall who started it, or what the fight was about. A girl, maybe--but they hadn't been fighting over her.
He doesn't remember the details, only how they'd patched things up. It was Chanyeol who'd come over first, and Jongin's parents had let him go straight up to their son's room, oblivious to the tension.
Jongin was lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling. Chanyeol had sat down on the edge of the mattress.
"Sorry," he'd mumbled.
Jongin had been so relieved to see him, so happy not to be at odds anymore, he'd grabbed the back of Chanyeol's shirt and pulled him down next to him.
He'd whispered, "Me, too," and punctuated the sentiment by kicking at Chanyeol's foot.
Chanyeol had kicked him back, his gangly legs barely fitting the bed frame. "Can I sleep over, Jonginnie?"
"Course you can," Jongin had said.
That night, he didn't know the word for it yet. Backhugging, maybe. Foregoing their personal sleeping space, definitely. It was only months later when he'd heard it mentioned on an American television show and the thing had become a force of habit between them that Jongin realized he and Chanyeol were spooning.
Chanyeol returns to the dorm the next evening.
Jongin apologizes at the door. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lose my temper. Congratulations on Tisch. You're brilliant. You're going to have such a good time. Don't forget me while you're there. I was just sad about you going away for so long. I'm sorry. Don't be angry anymore."
Chanyeol gives him a smile. It's not the one that warms his face and crinkles up his eyes, so he looks like a child who's just been fed. It's the one he uses when he's trying to finish a piece and Jongin's music is too loud. Infinitely patient. "I'm not angry. It's all right."
Jongin wishes Chanyeol would ruffle his hair, tap his nose, anything. He wants to close the gap between them with a hug, but he's afraid touching is out of the question.
"I'm sorry I sprang Nana on you like that. Were you waiting up for me? I should have called ahead and--"
"I'm not your mother, Jongin." Chanyeol's face is unreadable. "You don't have to tell me where you are." He gestures politely, like he's asking if he can come in, and Jongin moves aside to let him pass.
"I know," the dancer says, and he's actually penitent about it. "I know that, Chanyeol. But you're my best friend, and I just thought--"
"Look, it's okay." Chanyeol puts his hand on Jongin's shoulder. This is what he wanted, the touch he craved, but it's not as comforting as he thought it would be. "Let's just forget what happened. Okay?"
"Okay," Jongin says in a small voice.
Chanyeol lets his hand drop and toes off his boots.
"Can I ask you something?"
"What is it?"
"Where did you sleep last night?"
Chanyeol climbs into his bed. He hasn't brought back his book. "Baekhyun's." He pulls his phone out of his pocket and starts scrolling through it, not looking at Jongin.
"Can I sleep over?"
Chanyeol looks up from his phone slowly, like his head is weighted. The expression in his eyes is readable now, and the only thing it says is drained. "Jongin," he murmurs. "Don't you think we're too old for that?"
Chanyeol goes home to spend time with his family starting Christmas Eve up until two days after New Year's.
Jongin isn't lonely. Not at all. He calls up Nana and she meets him in a student pub, where they have way too many shots together. They end up at her place again, and Jongin goes down on her in the foyer, because he can. When they stumble their way into the kitchen, Nana returns the favor, and Jongin closes his eyes and tries not to think too much.
I'm into this, he tells himself, picking Nana up by the backs of her thighs and sitting her down on the kitchen counter. He wedges himself between her legs. Nana sucks a mark into the side of his neck. She's naked and so insanely gorgeous even though she's a little wrecked, so Jongin slides his tongue into her mouth, the way he thought he might have wanted to do to Chanyeol once. He banishes all thoughts of his best friend from his mind.
I'm into this.
The night before Chanyeol leaves for New York, he and Jongin have a meal at their favorite samgyeopsal joint. It's six days to Jongin's twenty-first birthday.
Jongin is expecting the light banter and their old jokes, because Chanyeol will never make him feel uncomfortable, not even when things are strained between them. He's hoping for the perfect segue so they can patch things up for real, and Chanyeol can leave on a positive note, and everything will go back to normal while he's in America.
He isn't expecting Chanyeol to confess before the meat is cooked through.
Chanyeol is turning slices of pork belly over the hot plate with a pair of tongs. "You should know," he says simply, "that I've always really loved you."
Jongin drops his chopsticks on the table. One of them clatters to the floor. His forehead is pulsing, practically vibrating, with the force of blood rushing to it.
Chanyeol doesn't stop grilling the pork. "I had a crush on you when I was sixteen. Saw you for the first time on my birthday." He clicks the pair of tongs absentmindedly. "You were on your way home from school, and I saw you on the street in our uniform while I was picking out a cake with my sister. And then it started to snow, and you looked so happy to see it, Jongin. You looked so," his voice quiets, "so perfect."
"Hyung," Jongin attempts with trepidation, but it's like Chanyeol's in his own world.
"I really wanted to meet you," he goes on. "So I asked around for your name, and then I made friends with you on the bleachers at that basketball game. Do you remember?" By increments, his expression shifts from nostalgia to something a little too much like sorrow. "Then I got to know you, and of course you liked girls. We got along great, but you'd never like me how you liked them. And that was okay, because neither of us had a girlfriend in high school--we just had each other. That was enough for me." His voice hitches. "But then Jinri came along last year and, man, she made you light up. You should have seen the way you looked at her. I guess I imagined it's the same way I always looked at you."
Jongin can only stare at him like he's staring into the headlights of a speeding car, his heart pounding mercilessly against his chest.
"You were so suited to each other, so great together. I thought that was going to be the end for me. So when you broke up, I was shocked, Jongin. It was almost like…I dunno, like I felt I had a chance. Like maybe I could make you…" He pauses, and Jongin thinks he's not going to say it. But he says it. "Make you fall in love with me."
"Please don't call me that anymore," Chanyeol murmurs, not unkindly. "It makes me feel special, in a way that's not good for me."
Jongin opens his mouth to say something, but his lips only twitch. He shuts his mouth, then his eyes.
"I'm happy for you, you know." Chanyeol has started segregating the cooked pieces of meat from the partially raw ones. "I stalked Im Nana on Facebook." He chuckles without a daub of amusement. "You were right. She's stunning. Makes a guy go crazy--or feel bad about himself, depending on the guy."
"There's nothing for you to feel bad about," Jongin puts in, quietly aggravated. "You're handsome and you're fun and you're really fucking smart. You're perfect just the way you are."
"But you won't have me," Chanyeol mutters, and there's a stabbing sensation between Jongin's ribs.
Then Chanyeol shakes his head, like he's just gotten a hold of himself. "I'm sorry, I'm not telling you this to make you feel guilty. Before I…" He falters. "I want you to know this isn't your fault."
A chill tiptoes up Jongin's spine. "What isn't?"
Chanyeol doesn't answer at first. He picks up each slice of meat with the tongs and places them neatly on Jongin's plate. They add up to a juicy, sizzling pile.
"What isn't my fault, Chanyeol?" Jongin has never been this afraid, because he has never had this much to lose.
"I don't think we should contact each other while I'm in New York," Chanyeol mumbles. "I think it would do us some good, to take a break from our...to take a break. I want to do my best at Tisch, learn as much as I can, concentrate on music while I'm over there. And you have your girl now. You won't even feel the difference, not really."
"How can you say that?" The shock has deadened Jongin's voice.
Chanyeol rubs his lips together. They're chapped but still so red. "It hurts, Jongin." His tongue darts out to moisten the cracks. "I can't do this much longer."
"Please." Jongin doesn't even know what he's asking for. Chanyeol is cutting him off. This is really, really happening.
"You have your girl," Chanyeol repeats firmly, but the distress has already crept into his tone. "I need space."
Space sounds like the ugliest word in the world. "Chanyeol, you'll be gone for six months. Half a year. You can't…we're supposed to…" The inside of Jongin's throat is so dry, it sticks together when he swallows. "Aren't we best friends?"
"Don't you see?" Now Chanyeol is visibly upset. "I want to be more. I want you to love me the way I love you. I don't want to watch you come home after you've slept with someone else and have to take it because we're just best friends. But that's all I've been doing, because you don't love me like that and you'll never see me the same way." He stops there, swiping a palm across his mouth. Jongin is ashamed by the time Chanyeol speaks again, his gaze levelled at the dancer and his voice much, much lower. "You like girls, Jongin. You always have and you always will. Every time I've felt otherwise has just been me deluding myself. Right?"
There is a challenge in Chanyeol's eyes. It's as if he already knows the answer, and he's aware of the pain that will strike the moment he confirms it--but he just has to confirm it. His irises are so dark, almost black, not their deep, warm brown.
All Jongin has to do is tell him the truth. Say how he really feels. Admit he's been trying to fuck his way through other people to get Chanyeol out of his system.
That's all he has to do.
That's all he has to do.
Three months later, long after Chanyeol has boarded his flight at IIA and taken the warmth of his company with him on the plane, Jongin's regret feels just as keen.
It's April now, warm enough to go without a scarf in the mornings. Today, Jongin walks the length of Yeouido to see the Spring Flower Festival alone. The flora is a lush carpet, a fluttering curtain--thousands of azaleas, forsythias, plum blossoms, and apricot flowers, blooming bright. The cherry trees are the most beautiful of all, their brown-black trunks erupting into clouds of the palest pink.
The last time Jongin visited this park was with Jinri the previous year. Spring, 2015. They'd held hands, and Jongin had flipped the camera screen on his phone so they could take a selca at every turn.
Before that, he'd come here to watch the fireworks with Chanyeol. New Year's Eve, 2014. The snow had lain heavily in the tree branches as the pair of them trooped to the park's riverside swath. Jongin remembers it being two degrees out, and yet he'd been warm, so warm.
Today, the world is twelve weeks into 2016, which means he hasn't spoken to Chanyeol in twelve weeks. Not since the dinner at the samgyeopsal place. Not since Jongin officially broke his best friend's heart.
"Right," he'd said that night, hands clenching into fists. "I like girls." The immediate sensation of Weak-Stupid-Selfish-Scared had clocked him like a punch.
"Right." Chanyeol had traced a fingertip over his sideburn, over and over again. He'd never looked so low. "So don't fight me on this, Jongin. Let's just have a clean break."
"Six months," Jongin'd mumbled. "You'll talk to me again in six months, when you get back. You have to promise."
"Yes," Chanyeol'd said. "In six months, I won't feel this way anymore."
After a minute or so, Chanyeol had gotten up from the table to pay the bill. He'd ignored Jongin's protests, only flashed him an empty smile and slurred an apology as he excused himself from the restaurant, leaving Jongin to finish the meal. Jongin'd had waited all of twenty seconds before pushing his chair back and chasing after his friend.
He'd caught up to Chanyeol on the sidewalk. Clutched the hem of his shirt. Thrown his arms around that slender waist. Known this was goodbye.
"My family's taking me to the airport tomorrow," Chanyeol had said, holding him. The padded fabric of their winter coats had scraped together, the sound thick and chafing. "Don't worry about me."
"Don't forget your promise," Jongin had whispered, pulsing, pulsing, pulsing with the pain of his own cowardice. "Please come back." Come back to me.
Chanyeol had loosened his grip. "Happy birthday in advance, Jonginnie." Then he'd stepped away. "I'll miss you."
Every time Jongin rewinds to that moment (the tremor in Chanyeol's voice, his hands, his eyelids), the sight of the cherry blossoms turns his mouth to ash.
Chanyeol's been in New York four-and-a-half months when Jongin runs into Jinri on campus. Or rather, he's parked on his and Chanyeol's bench, trying to get through a novel, when she crosses the quad to sit next to him.
"Hey, Jongin," she greets him shyly.
She hasn't spoken to him since they broke up in the fall. He hasn't seen her since mid-October. She's wearing a white cotton dress and mint green sandals, and she looks as lovely as the first time Jongin saw her, right in this spot.
"Jinri," he says. "You look so pretty. How are you?"
She smiles, and it's effortless. "That's exactly what I came over here to ask you."
"Oh?" Jongin scratches the back of his neck. "I'm fine."
"How is Chanyeol-oppa doing at Tisch?"
"He's…" Jongin blinks rapidly, contemplating a lie. But this is Jinri, so he just shakes his head. "We're not really speaking right now."
"Why not?" Her voice is sweet and low, like they're the only two people in the quad, not two out of eighty-two.
Jinri shoots him an odd, searching glance. "Jongin," she ventures, "did he tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"How he feels about you."
When all he can do is stare at her, mostly catatonic, her gaze gentles. "He came out to me," Jinri explains, placing a cool, slim hand on Jongin's knee. "Remember our first date? I think you could tell that I..." Her smile is sheepish. "That I liked him."
"Yeah," Jongin murmurs, still suspended in disbelief. "I was so jealous."
She keeps her hand where it is. "A few days after that, Chanyeol-oppa took me aside. I thought he was going to ask me how the date went, but no." Her eyelashes are even longer than Jongin remembers. "That's when he told me he was in love with you."
A pair of wider eyes is Jongin's only response.
"Then he told me why. How you worked so hard at everything you did. How you were such a talented dancer and how you were always impossibly sweet." Her eyes sparkle. "How every time he looked at you, you just got cuter and cuter."
"He said that about me?" Yes, Jongin is blushing.
"He did," Jinri replies. "And then he told me I would be a fool not to give you a chance. Especially since, under the circumstances, I didn't have a chance with him. Harsh." She chuckles, brushing a piece of hair away from her face. "Do you know how it feels finding out your first love is gay?"
"You were my first love," Jongin tells her.
Jinri looks at him so, so tenderly. "Oh, Jongin." She strokes his cheek briefly with the tips of her fingers. "I wasn't. I think you know that by now. Don't you?"
He catches her hand and holds it between them. Of course. Of course he knows. "I'm really sorry, Jin. For everything." Her thumb strokes over his knuckles, forgiving. "It was real, you and me. I never wanted to hurt you."
"I know," she tells him. Her expression is tinged with wistfulness. "But you hurt us both, anyway, me and oppa, and that won't do." She leans in. "Aren't you tired of pretending?"
"Yes," Jongin finally admits. "Yes. But I don't know what to do." Something inside him unfetters. "I'm afraid."
Jinri regards him thoughtfully. "Do you know how I know you love him?" She doesn't wait for a response. "You're reading his favorite novel. Gabriel Garcia Márquez? Wow. You always changed the subject when I used to recommend his books to you. Any book, for that matter."
Chanyeol has left behind his copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. It'd been sitting in the middle of his desk since January, innocent as you please, until one day Jongin picked it up.
"Do you mind if I give you a little spoiler?" Jinri holds her hand out for the book. Jongin passes it to her carefully. He hasn't dropped it yet.
Jinri leafs through its pages until she's almost at the end. When she finds what she's looking for, she points it out to Jongin and slides his bookmark back in place. "Read that."
Then she gets to her feet, and in earnest, so does Jongin. She pecks him on the cheek. She still smells exactly the same.
"The next time you think of lying to Chanyeol-oppa about how you feel, consider that," she gestures to the book in his hands, "my advice. And Jongin?" Her eye contact reels him in, and it's clear now, why he'd liked her so much.
Not as much as he'd liked Chanyeol, though.
"Remember what you really want."
He hangs back after Choreo a few days later to speak with Nana.
"Are you coming over tonight?" she asks, leaning against the mirror in the studio. Her hair is damp with sweat, but it still falls in silken waves over her shoulders. It's long enough that every time she gets out of bed nude, that glossy mane actually keeps her half-decent. Jongin has stopped counting the number of times he's seen it happen.
It's been a confusing couple of months. Many times, miserable.
"No," he replies. He doesn't flinch. "I won't be coming over anymore. I'm sorry."
Nana scrutinizes him for a long moment.
"There's someone I love," he confesses, diving right into it. "Someone who loves me, and who I lied to. And I need to stop fooling around, so when I tell him I want to be with him, he'll give me another chance."
"Him?" That makes Nana laugh. The sound is unimpressed. She licks the corner of her mouth, and Jongin can see the dismissal in it.
His reply is quiet but firm. "Him."
"Your loss," she declares, right before she leaves the room. The following week, when class reconvenes, she asks to be partnered up with Sehun.
Jongin has never felt freer.
This is what the line in Chanyeol's book reads:
Tell him yes. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.
Jongin takes a photo of the page with his phone and files it away for safekeeping in his heart.
On a muggy day in July, smack dab in the middle of summer break, Chanyeol returns from New York. Jongin has borrowed his sister's car and driven to Incheon to meet him.
When he sees Chanyeol at the airport, he doesn't call out to him right away. He's wearing a gray T-shirt, ink blue jeans, and Converse, still boyish in black Ray-Bans and so tall he walks head and shoulders above the crowd. He's cut his hair, too--and maybe someone's taught him how to do it, or maybe it's naturally rumpled after hours on a plane, but it makes him look sexy. There are girls (and guys) turning back to look at him. The mayhem in Jongin's chest is unmistakeable.
Crazy, stupid love.
"Chanyeol!" Jongin is trembling more than a little. "Over here!"
Chanyeol spots him over his sunglasses and waves, clearly surprised. He smiles at Jongin lopsidedly. It's warm and it hurts and it's what Jongin wanted and didn't want at the same time. It's like they've just seen and spoken to each other the day before, not six months prior. Like they're best friends again, and nothing (and no one) has changed. Like Chanyeol has made good on his word and finally gotten over Jongin, just like he said he would.
Jongin swallows around the shard in his throat, regret cutting into an old scar.
When they're face to face, he wills himself to act normal. "Hi, Yeol." He smiles broadly, waves both hands awkwardly, but doesn't make a move to touch him. "Welcome back."
"Jonginnie," Chanyeol greets him, voice husky from the long flight. The rush of emotions sends Jongin's head spinning. "I didn't know you were coming to see me."
"Is it okay?" Jongin tucks his bottom lip into his mouth, feeling many things, but above all, exposed.
"Sure it is." Chanyeol's speaking to him fondly, but they still haven't hugged. Jongin supposes he'll have to get used to it.
He's not sure if it's okay to say this next thing, but--"I really missed you."
Too late for takebacks now.
Chanyeol's smile quirks. Jongin can't see his eyes behind the dark lenses. He has no idea where he stands.
"Me, too," Chanyeol says, in no particular tone of voice. "It's nice to be back."
The drive to Seoul is not a silent one by any means. Jongin asks plenty of questions about New York and Tisch's campus and Chanyeol's curriculum under the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Chanyeol indulges him with long answers and evocative descriptions and anecdotes about his life in the Big Apple.
It's not much different from the way they used to talk. It's not quite the same, either.
He hasn't yet mustered up the courage to ask anything of substance by the time they get to Chanyeol's apartment building. His parents will be back tonight from a holiday in the Philippines, but his sister, Yura, is home. She's the one who gave all his flight details to Jongin. No questions asked.
"Thanks for picking me up," Chanyeol chirps when Jongin puts the car in park. "Do you want to come up for some food?"
"I think noona wants to spend some time with you," Jongin says softly. "But I'd like to come by tomorrow, if that's all right."
"Oh," Chanyeol says, showing the first signs of uncertainty. "I told Baekhyun we'd hang out tomorrow." Then his expression smooths itself out. "You're welcome to join us?"
"No, no," Jongin replies. He keeps his tone conversational, even though his chest is caving. "I don't want to intrude."
At that, Chanyeol breathes out a chuckle. The sound is so simple but so welcome. It makes Jongin's heart ache.
"You never do," Chanyeol tells him. "See you tomorrow."
Maybe it's because they've never hung out before, or spoken, or even been introduced, so Jongin's never gotten to observe him up close. But the truth is, Byun Baekhyun is really, really pretty. Jongin takes in the almond eyes, translucent skin, and lips like pressed petals with surprise. He sees how slight Baekhyun appears next to Chanyeol's lean, masculine frame, how close they stand together in the queue for the movie the three of them are about to watch, and it makes him nervous.
"How's summer treating you, Jongin?" Baekhyun's gaze is inquisitive. His speaking voice has a melody running underneath it.
Jongin clears his throat. "Pretty good."
"Have you been to the beach?" Baekhyun asks. Chanyeol's watching Jongin now, too, the look meant to be amiable on his end but totally disconcerting on the recipient's.
The last time Jongin went to the beach, he'd wanted to press his open mouth against Chanyeol's and taste the flavor of his tongue.
"No, I haven't," he answers.
"What've you been up to, then?" It's Chanyeol who's asking this time, in a low, palliative tone. He looks a little drowsy. Must be the jetlag.
Jongin is impossibly drawn to the sound of his voice. "Nothing." The sight of Chanyeol's sleepy face is much too endearing. "I've…I've just been waiting for you to come home."
The expression in Chanyeol's eyes does not change, but he does keep them on Jongin for a beat longer than necessary.
"Me, too," Baekhyun puts in. "I've been so bored without you, Yeol. Couldn't wait for you to get back." Then--Jongin's throat seizes--he slips his hand into Chanyeol's, interlocking their fingers. Baekhyun's hand is beautiful, veinless and pale. "I missed you so much."
Chanyeol snickers. "You're as clingy as ever." He shakes his head, but he leaves his hand in Baekhyun's grasp. There's an eyelash stuck to his cheek. "You act like we haven't been on Skype every day."
That really, really stings.
"Shut up," Baekhyun says cutely. He reaches over with his other hand and plucks off the eyelash. He brushes his fingers over the tiny bare patch on Chanyeol's skin. "You said you missed me, too."
Chanyeol's next smile is warm and pleasant, like a sip of tea. "I did, Baek."
Jongin gets it now.
"I have to go." His voice is shaking. "I just remembered that my sister needs me to do some errands for her."
"Right now?" Chanyeol asks. Two small, concerned grooves surface between his eyebrows. "What errands?"
"Just stuff," Jongin insists, and his hands are shaking, too. He shoves them into his pockets and steps out of the line. "I have to go, I'm sorry."
Chanyeol wiggles his hand out of Baekhyun's, like something has just dawned on him. "Jonginnie."
"Bye, hyu--Chanyeol." Jongin can't even look at him. His heart is not pounding. It's almost completely frozen. "Bye. I'm sorry. I'll see you soon."
Chanyeol steps out of line, too. "Baek, hold our place," he tells their companion, who looks very much confused. "I'm just going to walk with Jongin for a bit."
Baekhyun nods, shooting the dancer a sympathetic glance. Jongin's attempts at a smile and a wave are feeble at best.
He starts moving, and Chanyeol keeps in stride.
"I'm sorry about the Skype thing," Chanyeol says immediately. His tone is careful, sandpaper-soft. "That was insensitive of me, bringing that up. It just slipped out."
"You don't have to apologize to me," Jongin mutters, feeling numb. "You didn't do anything wrong."
The sigh that pulls out of Chanyeol is uneven and just shy of impatient. It makes Jongin want to look up into his face. He doesn't, because his eyes are a little damp.
"I never seem to do anything right, though," Chanyeol murmurs. "Not with you."
God, Jongin just wants to kiss him.
That's when Chanyeol stops walking. "I hope you get all your errands done." He ruffles Jongin's hair, just the way he used to, nails scraping lightly against his scalp.
Jongin practically gasps. All the feeling floods back into his chest, hot as lava. He wants Chanyeol to do it again, and again, and again.
"I'd help you, but I really want to watch this movie." The elder's smile is lackluster. No teeth.
The younger's heart is burning. "That's okay--"
"But please come over tomorrow," Chanyeol continues. "I'll be home all day, resting. I'll wait for you."
Jongin doesn't know how to feel.
"Baekhyun won't be there," Chanyeol adds quietly. "Just us. Best friends." The two words are breathy and hesitant. Jongin's skin tingles with longing. "Okay? So just come over."
"Okay." And Jongin looks up.
They lock eyes and Jongin blinks and Chanyeol's face is so handsome, so familiar, and so filled with warmth. And oh, Chanyeol's eyes are widening and his lips have parted just a touch and his neck relaxes so it's almost, almost like it's going to dip. And Jongin can't help it, the way he's craning up at the tiniest of angles, and he can hear himself breathing, and he thinks maybe, just maybe, they actually might…
"Goodnight," Chanyeol says. His voice is gravelly, and it makes something pool in Jongin's belly. "My place tomorrow. Don't forget."
Jongin is dizzy with desire, already pining away, but he manages to say yes before Chanyeol leaves him by the escalators.
He's back, the message reads. Jongin has typed it into his old Line chat with Jinri. He'd cleared it right after they'd broken up, so his words wait alone against the default blue background.
When the chat signals Jinri is typing, he feels reassured.
You know what to do, she says. You can do it, Jongin. Then she sends a sticker to cement her point.
It's a blond-haired boy down on one knee, holding out a bouquet of red roses. There are stars all around the bouquet, so it looks like it's sparkling. The perfect K-drama confession.
It actually makes Jongin smile. Is that supposed to be me?
Of course, Jinri replies. Look how pretty you are. How can oppa resist?
She's so sweet, and she's always known exactly what to say. It's without second thoughts that Jongin sends his response.
I love you, Jin. I always will. You're wonderful.
It takes a few moments for the points of ellipses to appear on the screen, signalling Jinri is typing again.
That's the first time you've ever said that to me, is what she sends back.
Jongin starts to type furiously, but Jinri beats him to the reply.
Don't say you're sorry, her follow-up message reads. Love you, too.
She sends over one of the more popular Line stickers: an adorable, moon-faced character doing a V sign over his eye.
Good luck xx
Late, late into the night, when it's actually already morning, Jongin stays up thinking of all the years spent with Chanyeol just within his reach--the same years he'd spent dancing just out of Chanyeol's. The irony of it all keeps him awake until the sky whitens through his blinds.
Chanyeol's room looks just the way it did in high school. Jongin takes comfort in that fact when he sits on the floor by the bed.
"You hungry?" Chanyeol asks. It's still a few hours to dinnertime, but being the son of two restaurateurs, Chanyeol never fails to ask.
"Not really," Jongin says, and he smiles so Chanyeol knows he doesn't need to be treated like a guest.
They always sit like this--here, at Jongin's, in the dorm. Their backs are against the mattress, and they're sitting pretty close, but not enough to touch. Chanyeol's got his legs stretched out in front of him, and Jongin's bracing his knees against his chest.
"How've you been?" Chanyeol's voice is neutral, but Jongin's known him long enough to know when it's intentional.
"Same old," he replies. "Jinri says hello. She's speaking to me again." He adds, "We're trying to be friends."
Chanyeol hums. "That's nice. I always thought she was good for you."
"We're not getting back together," Jongin puts in quickly, hoping his timing is right. "But she is a great girl."
Chanyeol blinks. "And how's Nana?"
Jongin almost asks who.
"Oh," he manages instead. "Nothing happening there. Not anymore."
Chanyeol's reaction--if you can call it that--is minute. His nod is matter-of-fact, the sound in his throat comprehending, and he looks down at his legs, picking lint off his jeans. Jongin wonders if this is his cue.
His friend isn't done talking, though. "You left so abruptly yesterday." His palm rubs over his knee repeatedly. "What happened?"
This is Jongin's cue.
"You and Baekhyun were holding hands." Just the memory of it smarts. "I thought it would be best to give you your privacy."
Chanyeol's head snaps in his direction. "It's not like that, Jongin."
"Really?" Jongin almost feels relieved, but he knows this conversation is far from over. "I just thought...since you two had a thing before. And you looked so cozy last night. You," he controls his tone, "you didn't take your hand away."
"That's just how it is with Baekhyun," Chanyeol puts in. "It takes some getting used to it." His eyes drop to the carpet, and his palm continues rubbing over his knee like an odd defense mechanism. "We haven't done anything since last summer. And neither of us wanted to, either."
"In New York," Jongin says, taking the segue where he can get it, "did you do anything with anybody?"
The sudden confusion on Chanyeol's face is tangible. "Oh. Um. Yeah." His voice is pinched, because he's holding back. "Why do you ask?"
"How many?" Jongin swallows.
"How did you meet them?" This is torture, but Jongin needs to know.
"One of them was a one night stand. I never got his name." Chanyeol seems hypnotized by something on Jongin's face. "We got drunk at a bar in Brooklyn, and I took him back to my dorm, and in the morning, he was gone." He doesn't blink. "I met Kyungsoo in class. He's Korean, too. He asked me out on Valentine's Day. We slept together on the third date. I broke it off a few weeks ago because I didn't see the point in long distance."
It feels terrible, of course, but Jongin asked for it. "Were you in love with him?"
"That was out of the question," Chanyeol replies instantly. His hand leaves his knee to pick at the carpet. His Adam's apple bobs, and Jongin wants to kiss it.
"Why's that?" he asks, bursting at the seams.
He can hear the sound of a car horn somewhere outside, children laughing in the next apartment, during the short silence that stills the air.
"You know why."
Tell him yes, Jongin remembers. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.
"You should know," Jongin says, as clearly as he can, "that I've always really loved you." He only uses Chanyeol's words because they say everything he wants to.
"Oh, my god," Chanyeol whispers. His palm is flat and still against the carpet. "Oh, my god, Jongin. Don't do this to me. It's taken me so long to--and I haven't even--"
"Please don't get over me," Jongin pleads, panic striking like the crack of a whip. "I know I made you wait for so long, but I can't let you go."
"Since when?" Chanyeol asks. His expression is frantic. "Since when have you known?"
"Since Jinri," Jongin tells him, and he curls his fingers into the hem of Chanyeol's T-shirt. "But I didn't know exactly what it was until you took me to the ocean."
"Why didn't you tell me this before I left?" Chanyeol's eyes are closed, his brows sloping helplessly. "I asked you, and you said--"
"I was in denial, hyung." The endearment rolls off of Jongin's tongue like it never left. "I was in it so deep. I'd only liked girls before, and I'd always had you by my side. It scared the shit out of me, how different you made me feel, and how much could change, and," his fingers clench into the fabric, "how badly I wanted you."
He doesn't stop there. "It doesn't seem fair to just apologize for what I put you through. But if it's anything to you, anything at all, I'm really sorry. I…you have no idea how much I regret it." He places his hand, feather-light, on the dip of Chanyeol's waist. "I'm sorry. I love you. Just the way you love me." His mouth twists. "I've only thought about you these past six months. I was thinking about you way before then. All the time. Only you."
It's an eternity before Chanyeol exhales in a slow, measured stream. "Okay."
Chanyeol opens his eyes, and it's like he's talking to himself when he repeats the word. "Okay." He pushes a hand through his hair and presses the same one to his cheek, as if to steady himself. Then he looks at Jongin, half-lidded, and hope spreads like wildfire through the dancer's body.
"Come here," Chanyeol says.
Initially, Jongin slides over and stops when they're hip to hip. Then he thinks better of it and climbs into Chanyeol's lap. His knees rest on either side of Chanyeol's thighs, and he sits there quietly, waiting for the elder to speak.
Chanyeol brings up a hand to cup Jongin's face. It's warm and dry. So secure. His thumb brushes over Jongin's lips, and they part under the touch.
"Hi," Chanyeol whispers.
"Hi." Jongin's voice barely registers over the hush in the room. He's a little self-conscious, but that's greatly overpowered by the bliss he feels when he gazes into Chanyeol's face. It's filled with an endearing sort of disbelief--and blatant adoration.
"You love me," Chanyeol says.
"Yes," Jongin confesses. "I really, really do." He presses his lips against the pad of Chanyeol's thumb. Then, on a whim, he opens his mouth to accommodate his fingertip, deepening the kiss. He keeps his eyes open, so he can see Chanyeol's face darken in a telltale flush.
"Can I kiss you, Jongin?"
Jongin releases Chanyeol's thumb from between his lips. "Of course you can."
He makes it easy for them both, leaning forward until he's flush against Chanyeol's torso. He braces his hands on the mattress above Chanyeol's head. Their noses align.
"When did you get so…" Chanyeol gulps. "So good at this."
"I'm not." Jongin holds his breath. "I just really want to be with you."
It's like something snaps between them. Chanyeol kisses him hard, tangling his fingers in Jongin's hair so it feels a little desperate. Jongin can still make out the tenderness in it, even when Chanyeol flips him onto his back and fits himself on top. Jongin locks his legs around Chanyeol's body, their tongues sliding rough against one another.
This tastes infinitely better than melon.
Chanyeol pulls away first. His mouth is swollen red, and his thigh is pushed between Jongin's legs. "Are we going too fast?"
Jongin arches up to recapture his mouth. "No," he insists between hungry kisses. There is a delicious sensation curling in his core. "I've known you forever," he whispers. "Make me yours."
Chanyeol pulls away again, leaning on his elbows so he can prop himself up. His bangs are in his eyes. "I love you, Jongin," he says seriously. "I've never loved anybody else."
"It's the same for me," Jongin responds, blushing deeply. "So when we do this," he sucks in a breath, "when you fuck me," Chanyeol bites his lip, "I don't want you to think about the rest of them." Jongin almost sounds defiant. "Byun Baekhyun, those guys in New York. Just, just forget about them, hyung. I know I might not be as experienced, but, oh," he whimpers into Chanyeol's neck. The latter has slipped his hand into Jongin's underwear. His nose is pressed into Jongin's temple. "Oh, god. Please just think about me."
"Shh," Chanyeol soothes him. Jongin is so in love with him. Chanyeol kisses him once, twice, the sound of it succulent. Their lips are still touching when the elder admits, "That's all I've been doing, Jongin."
Jongin sleeps over that night. And the next. And the next three after that.
He only goes home when his mother phones him reproachfully and tells him he needs a change of underwear--and to stop mooching off the Parks' food supply.
The three older Parks have been in Busan all the while, setting up new branches of Buonasera. The remaining Park has had Jongin out of his underwear longer than he's actually worn it.
"Come on, Jonginnie." Chanyeol is so amused. "You have to go." He's leaning against the door, watching Jongin impressively slow down the process of putting on his shoes. "I don't want omoni to get annoyed."
"Okay, okay, I'm leaving. Come over tonight?" Jongin gets up, still shoeless, and slides his hands into the backpockets of Chanyeol's jeans. These past few days, their touching has gotten out of hand. Jongin loves it. "Sleep over all week. Or don't sleep."
"You're insatiable," Chanyeol laughs, but he licks into Jongin's mouth, anyway, just to hear him sigh.
"I'm making up for lost time," Jongin mumbles. Their tongues dance in a way that Jongin could definitely get used to. "Just humor me for a while."
"Whatever you want," Chanyeol replies. He pulls away only to peck Jongin on the forehead. Jongin loves that, too. "Forever, if you like."
Senior year has got to be the most wonderful time of Jongin's life thus far. It zips by too quickly, like all wonderful things are wont to do.
It's not like anything changes drastically. Jongin sheepishly realizes he and Chanyeol have been acting like a couple way before they were a couple when their routine remains unchanged. They eat takeout in the dorm. They sit together on their bench in the quad. They wait for each other outside their classes. They play video games and listen to music and plan the next step after K-ARTS. They explore the nooks and crannies of the city, and sometimes, they take trips to the beach.
The only difference is that Chanyeol tells him he loves him every day and kisses him, slow and sexy, whenever he feels like it.
Not necessarily on the mouth.
Sure, the stress of their theses, exams, and future in the arts looms constantly in the background. Jongin wants to join a dance company right after graduation. Chanyeol wants to take a year off, write a hundred songs, and try to sell one. They're in flux, just like everybody else.
But maybe Jongin is too happy to feel it, or maybe he feels like he can conquer everything, just because Chanyeol tells him so. It's probably a combination of both.
The love-sex-magic haze that envelops them both probably doesn't hurt. Neither does the comfort of their eight-year friendship.
A week before commencement, when all cleared seniors are officially on break, Chanyeol's sunbae Minseok from the music department takes them out to a steak dinner. He graduated the year before and is now working as a junior producer at SME. He's accompanied by a co-worker, Luhan, who is Chinese and beautiful but a little strange. Jongin regards him with curiosity.
"So," Minseok says, his lips an insinuating curve when he spies Jongin's hand in Chanyeol's. "How long has this been going on?"
"About a year," Chanyeol replies, just as Jongin says, "Almost a decade."
Chanyeol looks at him in wonder, and Jongin returns his gaze with pride.
"Ooookay." Minseok's tone is indulgent. "Glad we cleared that up." He points his fork at them. "Who liked who first?"
Chanyeol raises his hand. "I did." His eyes are a caress on Jongin's face. Even after all this time, Jongin can't stop the heat from creeping up his neck. "This one gave me a really hard time."
"I know how you feel," Luhan says placidly. He's so strange.
"You got him in the end, though." Minseok winks.
"And I got him, too," Jongin decides to say. He gives Chanyeol's hand a gentle squeeze. "Right, hyung?"
"Oh, boy," Minseok drawls. "You're one of those."
"What do you mean, sunbae?"
"You call him 'hyung' the way my sister calls her boyfriend 'oppa.'" The older man's smile curls into a flagrant tease. "Never pegged you as a bottom, Jonginnie."
The blush he and Chanyeol share is as dark as the wine in their glasses.
Luhan draws Minseok into a side conversation--something about the difference between Korean and American beef. He touches Minseok on the shoulder and wrist when he speaks, and suddenly Jongin knows exactly what's going on here. There, right there, on Luhan's pretty face, is The Look.
He tugs on Chanyeol's hand to make him bend.
"When I look at you," Jongin murmurs into his ear, "do I look like that?" He juts out his chin in Luhan's direction. He's still deep in discussion with Minseok.
Chanyeol glances at their Chinese companion and chuckles softly. He shakes his head.
"No? Really?" Jongin's a little surprised.
"It's different," Chanyeol says under his breath. "I can't explain it."
Jongin nods, although he's not quite satisfied with that answer.
"All I know," Chanyeol continues, "is that it makes me feel really, really good." His lips trace the shell of Jongin's ear. "And whenever I catch you looking at me, I fall in love with you all over again."
Jongin kisses him, then and there.
"Get a room!" Minseok hoots in the background, tossing his linen napkin at them from across the table.
"Leave them alone," Luhan chides him. "It's young love. It's cute."
The Jongin of two years ago would have crawled under the table. The Jongin dating Park Chanyeol barely registers their presence.
"You make me so happy," he laughs into Chanyeol's mouth.
"Good," Chanyeol replies, rubbing their noses together. "Because I plan on doing it for a really long time."