Chapter 1: wake up
Namjoon woke up to the enticing aroma of sizzling meat wafting from the vents near his bed and sighed, squeezing his eyes closed in an attempt to remember the dream that was quickly fleeing his brain. He gave up, deciding to get up and dressed so he wouldn’t be late for school. As soon as his feet hit the floor, his sharp gaze landed on the calendar on his bedside table.
His sixteenth birthday.
A dimpled smile lit up his face and he did a little victory dance, spinning around the room with a laugh. It was finally here. He was officially sixteen years old.
Namjoon heard a clatter from downstairs and smelled the food cooking again, imagining the delicious feast his parents were preparing for him for his special day. His appa would be grilling the pork belly, one of his favorite foods, and his eomma would be making the rice and eggs to go with it. Then his brother, Seokjin, would pull out his chair for him and slide a big glass of banana milk in front of his, bursting at the seams with a new joke.
He knew he wouldn’t get through the joke without his hyung laughing, messing it up but still finding humor in the small things.
It was perfect, the way they celebrated his birthday. Every year it was the same, which some people may call boring, but Namjoon loved it. He loved spending time with his family, especially when it was about to get a little bigger.
Jin-hyung was getting married the next day, to a lovely man named Jung Hoseok, and their family hadn’t had much time lately to spend together. It was all rushing from this event to that to buying tuxes and dresses for the cousins and making sure the cake was right and ordering the flowers for the tables and it was just utter chaos at their house, and it had been for the last month.
But Namjoon was happy for his brother, ecstatic, even. Hoseok-hyung was a wonderful person, with a smile that could light up the room and the dance moves of a professional. He and Jin-hyung met when he came into the bakery his brother worked at, and they hit it off, Hoseok-hyung complimenting him on the homemade mochi he’d let him sample.
If there was one way to his brother’s heart, it was food. And compliments on his food.
As much as Namjoon loved watching his brother and his soon-to-be husband compliment each other and generally be affectionate, it also made his heart pang, because he wanted to be the one showering his other half with kisses, he wanted to be the one holding their hand when they were sad.
Oh, how he wished his feelings for a certain blonde from school were mutual.
Snapping out of his too-deep-for-seven-am thoughts, Namjoon pulled out the outfit his eomma had picked out for his birthday, deeming it his “birthday suit.” While everyone knew what an actual birthday suit was, he just hid his burning face in her shoulder with a long thank you hug.
After he finished tying the laces of the specially-made Vans he’d gotten from his appa—they had little red crabs mixed in with the black and white checkers—he grinned at his reflection in the mirror, happy with the outcome. He adjusted his glasses on his nose, cleaning a smudge off the lens and opening his door quickly, bracing himself for his noisy family jumping out to surprise him.
He peeked around the corner, spotting no one. Alright, he thought, crossing over to his brother’s closed door, maybe they’re downstairs waiting. He gave the door a few knocks, concerned his brother wasn’t awake yet. Usually, he was the first one up, making sure Namjoon himself got up and made it to school.
“Namjoon!” A voice hissed, coming from the stairs. “Don’t wake your brother, he needs his beauty sleep for tomorrow.” Footsteps thumped down the stairs and he turned, catching a glimpse of his eomma as she left.
He supposed that made sense; why should Jin-hyung risk his appearance just to wake up early? After all, he wasn’t even in school anymore. He deserved an extra hour of sleep. Satisfied with that conclusion, he nodded to himself and traipsed down the stairs, careful not to knock over the basket of laundry that was perched on the bottom step.
With birthday luck, he managed to scoot past it, with it only wobbling a bit as he pushed into the kitchen, still following the aroma of breakfast. “Eomma? Appa?” he called softly, announcing his presence as he padded into the—seemingly empty—room. Looking around, he saw no one was there, and the food wasn’t even on the table anymore, dirty dishes piled in the sink.
Namjoon’s excited grin fell a little, his shoulders drooping as he spun around into the living room. No one was there, either, but his appa’s briefcase was gone, showing that he’d already left for work. Still spotting no one in the house, he became worried, wondering if something had happened to make everyone leave so quickly.
The front door creaked open, and his heart sped up as he rushed into the entryway, pausing by the stairs to greet his eomma. “Eom—“
She whipped past him, grabbing the keys that were on the key rack beside the kitchen door. “Sorry, Joonie. I’m late for the pre-rehearsal’s rehearsal, and I really need to go make sure they have the tents set up outside for the reception.”
Pausing at the front door, she turned around, giving him a small smile. “There’s leftovers in the fridge if you’re hungry, and don’t forget to be back here right after school to greet your new cousin, from America. Your grandparents are bringing him for the wedding.”
Namjoon stood there, gaping, and she widened her eyes, looking at him. “What?”
“Don’t you have anything to say to me?” he asked, sadness creeping into his tone.
She shook her head, looking up as if the ceiling had answers. “Good morning? Now, I have to go!”
The door slammed and he stood there, still leaning against the banister on the stairs, realization washing over him.
“Unbelievable. They forgot my birthday.”
Chapter 2: clumsy
"Your parents forgot your birthday? That's really... depressing."
Namjoon just shrugged, feigning nonchalance. Him and Jisoo were huddled around his locker, a morning ritual they'd created at the beginning of seventh grade. "It's fine. Really," he added. noticing the pointed look she was giving him.
Jisoo just cocked one flawless black eyebrow, then narrowed her eyes. She probably thought she looked menacing, but she actually looked adorable. "Joon..."
He sighed, slamming his locker hard, harder than he intended. They both flinched, and everyone in the hallway turned to look at them, wide-eyed. Namjoon froze like a deer in headlights, moving only when his best friend pulled him into their first class of the day. They sunk into the unforgiving plastic chairs, silent as the teacher waltzed in.
She leaned over and patted his arm in a reassuring way, eyes lingering on the hurt look that had been on Namjoon’s face ever since he’d walked into school that morning. He just couldn’t believe his eomma, his own mother, could forget the day that her child was born on. He placed his hand on top of Jisoo’s squeezing gently, then retracted his hand and got out his classwork.
Jisoo smiled then, genuinely, then turned and got out her classwork as well.
Their teacher started talking droning on about marine biology, one of Namjoon’s favorite subjects. Any other day, he’d be bouncing up and down in his seat, eager to answer questions and contribute with lesser-known facts about the different aquatic species and their unique attributes.
But that day, he just wanted to pout. To wallow in self-pity. His mind couldn’t help but wander to Hoseok-hyung, and his love for birthdays and special occasions in particular, and he wondered if his brother had ever told him when Namjoon’s birthday was. Jin-hyung was a very open person, so it was unlikely.
He just wondered.
“You’re coming to the dance tonight, right?” An unfamiliar voice stopped Namjoon in his tracks, mind reeling as he tried to place the deep voice that was asking him that. He turned around, looking down to see a boy with a blonde mullet and big blue eyes.
“N-no, why would I?” The words slipped out of Namjoon’s mouth before he could stop them, wincing at the tone he was using. After all, the boy hadn’t done anything to deserve his bad treatment. It was just a bad day.
He seemed to ignore the blatant rejection, however, and sidled up to Namjoon to throw an arm over his shoulder, smiling a boxy smile. “I’m Kim Taehyung. Freshman. You can come with me if you want.” He even had the audacity to wink, a dramatic one that ended up with him laughing. Taehyung steered Namjoon down the hallway, stopping in front of the cafeteria.
Namjoon discreetly shrugged the boy’s arm off, face burning. “No, thanks. I’m not going. With anyone. I just don’t feel like it.”
Taehyung nodded, opening his mouth to say something. He closed it again, backing away, a small smirk on his face, a mischievous look in his eyes. At the last second, he darted up to Namjoon, planting a small kiss on his cheek, then ran away, giggling.
“You know where to find me, babe!” he yelled over his shoulder, voice echoing in the empty hallway.
Namjoon just stood there, shocked, torn between embarrassment and mild discomfort. He settled on the former, pushing away the sudden images of another blonde boy kissing him on the cheek, another blonde boy calling him babe. With another heavy sigh, he pushed into the cafeteria, trying not to think about how everything was going so wrong.
He slung his neon jellyfish backpack over his shoulders, thankful the day had finally come to an end. Now he could go home, relax, and just hope the conversation with his eomma had been a fluke.
As he shut his locker for the final time until the next Monday, he felt a light tickle on his hand. It was a beautiful red ladybug. He screwed his eyes shut, wishing desperately on the small creature. “Hello,” he cooed, waving a finger at it. It fluttered its wings in return, flying away after a few seconds. “Goodbye,” he then whispered, heart full of happiness that the tiny thing had just given him.
Namjoon left, backing away from the long row of blue lockers, heading towards the exit. His shoe came untied after less than two steps, causing him to fall and somehow pull down another person in the process.
He hadn’t even realized there were any students left in the hallway.
“Hey, watch it!” a sugar-sweet voice snapped from above. He opened his eyes to reveal a petite boy with full lips and messy pink hair… who was currently scowling.
Namjoon lunged forward, standing up quickly and bowing to the smaller boy, stuttering. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to—“
He was interrupted with a scoff and a sassy eyeroll. “Just watch where you’re going. I could’ve broken something.”
The person whom Namjoon had knocked over was still sprawled on the hard tile, wincing at the scrape on his elbow. “Hush, Jimin-ah. He didn’t mean to. Besides, I’m the one that got in his way.”
Namjoon froze for the nth time that day, slowly maneuvering his body to reveal the boy that had just spoke. He knew the voice by heart, but still couldn’t believe what was in front of him. The blonde boy sat up, smirking. He raised a hand into the air, “A little help?”
“Of course!” Namjoon all but shouted, grabbing his outstretched hand and pulling him up into a standing position. He was lighter than Namjoon thought, so he kind of just flew through the air towards him and almost face-planted into his chest.
“Okay, we’ll be going now!” Jimin interrupted again, eyes glinting maliciously. He turned to the other boy, pouting and tugging on his arm. “C’mon, hyung, we need to get ready for the dance!”
He was ignored as the blonde eyed Namjoon curiously, sticking out a hand. “I’m Yoongi.”
“Oh, er, I’m Namjoon,” he answered quickly, dropping Yoongi’s hand like it had burned him.
Yoongi just smirked. “I know.”
Namjoon panicked, heart racing as he pointed over his shoulder. “I’ll just—I’m gonna—home. Bye!”
Yoongi chuckled lowly, wrapping an arm around Jimin and following Namjoon with his eyes. Namjoon dropped his head and sped through the door, forgoing the bus to run home.
He had a dance to go to.
Chapter 3: eureka
His grandparents had arrived sometime while he was at school.
Namjoon crept up the stairs, trying to sneak past them so he could throw on some clothes and go. He chose a white button-up, tucked it in some black jeans, and tied it all together with his pristine white Chucks. Simple, but not boring. He didn’t want to risk drawing any attention to himself, because he hated being the center of attention.
So, he wouldn’t be. Not when other people were wearing more interesting things.
As Namjoon crept back down the stairs, he tempted fate, skirting past the laundry basket still perched at the bottom of the stairs. He stumbled on the end of the carpet, flailing his arms and hitting the edge of the basket as he righted himself on the wall.
The basket, however, fell right over this time, dumping its white contents all over the floor. He mentally slapped himself, groaning and setting it upright so he could still make a clean getaway. He grabbed armfuls and armfuls of clothes, shoving them down into the basket as quickly as he could.
Honestly, he just wanted to leave it all there and run, but he knew he’d feel guilty about it later.
He should’ve just risked the guilt.
As he was on his last pile, Namjoon’s grandparents came in from the kitchen, followed by a small boy with wide brown eyes and shaggy hair, hiding an exasperated look behind his bangs. “This is the entryway—you’ve already seen it—and those stairs lead to all of the bedr—“ his grandmother came to an abrupt stop, face splitting into a grin as she spotted Namjoon.
“Namjoon!” she cooed in the way only grandmothers did, pinching his cheeks roughly. “Look at you, helping your eomma with the chores! Such a good boy!” He forced a smile and she wrapped him in a hug, still cooing.
The boy, presumably his new “cousin” from America, snickered, still hiding behind his bangs. Shockingly, he was Korean. Namjoon gave him a frantic look, gesturing to the door in an attempt to convey how desperate he was to get out of there. He extricated himself from his grandmother’s iron grip, smoothing out his wrinkled shirt.
She stepped back, grabbing both of the boys and shoving them together. “Namjoon, this is Jungkook, your new cousin from America. Or, he will be, once all of the papers are signed. He’s half-Korean, half-American, born here but raised there. Say hi!”
Namjoon mumbled a “hi” and eyed the boy curiously, wondering if he spoke any Korean.
His grandmother picked up on that look, apparently, and jumped into their silent conversation. “He speaks English, but I’ve been trying to teach him more Korean. His parents taught him as much as they could before they passed, bless them.” She was now pinching Jungkook’s cheek, and Namjoon stifled a laugh, happy it wasn’t him.
Jungkook mouthed something to Namjoon, and he narrowed his eyes, trying to read the boy’s lips. “By the way, I speak fluent Korean. I just pretend not to because they get so excited when I ‘remember’ what they’ve been ‘teaching’ me.” He spoke in English, which Namjoon was proud to understand. He loved languages, mainly English and Japanese, but he also dabbled in Spanish and German.
He nodded and the younger boy pretended to faint, putting his hand on his forehead and dropping to the floor. Namjoon’s grandparents freaked out, kneeling down and fanning him as Namjoon reached towards the doorknob. He was so close to freedom.
The doorknob had just began twisting when his grandfather glanced over at him, making a noise to grab his wife’s attention. “Where are you heading off to, Namjoon?” he asked, helping Jungkook stand up, still staring at Namjoon.
“Er, nowhere. Just… a school thing,” he stammered, blushing at the three pairs of eyes that were just now noticing his formal wear. “There’s a small dance, nothing too excit—“
“Oh!” his grandmother squealing, clapping her hands excitedly. “A dance! You should take Jungkook!” She pushed Jungkook toward Namjoon again, nodding fervently. “Jungkook, you go to the dance with Namjoon. Have fun, make new friends!”
Contrary to Namjoon’s beliefs, the smaller boy’s eyes lit up, and he nodded too, turning to Namjoon with pleading eyes. “Please? Can I come?” Namjoon nodded against his will, grabbing Jungkook and darting outside, making his way to the school.
Miraculously, he made it there without breaking a sweat, always two steps in front of Jungkook. He was trailing Namjoon, pointing at things and mumbling under his breath, occasionally laughing to himself.
At one point, he tugged on Namjoon’s sleeve, a mischievous look on his face as he pointed to a stray puppy. “Do you really eat dogs?” Apparently that was funny, because he cracked up, mouth wide as he slapped his thighs repeatedly.
Namjoon curled his lip, his usual good mood soured by the day’s events. If this was how it was going to be now that he was sixteen, he wanted to go back! It took all he had not to take off and leave the boy stranded in the middle of the street.
As they walked into the gymnasium, Namjoon turned to Jungkook, with what he hoped was a stern look on his face. “I’m going to meet my friend, Jisoo,” he started in crisp, precise English. “You go meet some people. We’ll meet back here at eleven to head back home. Got it?” He felt bad for his nasty tone, but he just really wanted to find Jisoo and at least attempt to have some fun.
Maybe get a glimpse of a special someone.
To his surprise, Jungkook nodded again, shouting “new friends!” and barreling into a random group of people. He tugged one of them to the dance floor, wrapping his arms around his neck without a moment of hesitation, whooping. The other boy was a freshman, tall for his age with a smile that kind of resembled Jungkook’s. Namjoon vaguely recognized him as Choi Soobin, a boy that was in the dance club after school.
They’d been there less than three seconds, and Jungkook already snagged himself a date. Namjoon just stood there, lamenting the fact that he’d been attending that school for years, and the one person he actually liked was taken. Sure, he supposed there were plenty of pretty girls who’d be happy to go with him, but he didn’t want pretty girls.
“Are you thinking about him?” Jisoo planted herself in front of Namjoon, tucking a long piece of wavy black hair behind her ear, which was studded with glittering earrings. Her fingers were also adorned with shining jewelry, making her look like some rich ballerina, paired with her light pink dress. Her makeup was natural, lips glistening and eyes lined with black.
“You look gorgeous,” was all he said, glancing around the room. “Where’s Lisa?”
Jisoo smiled, wider than she ever had before. “She’s coming. We’re going to dance later. But,” she said, putting one small hand on Namjoon’s shoulder. “You didn’t answer my question.”
He sighed, tipping his head back. “Yes, I am thinking of him, Jisoo.”
“It’s okay, Joonie. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Actually, I think I do.” They were both surprised that he’d actually agreed to tell her about his love life, which he never revealed to anyone. She tugged him over to the corner, sitting down across the table from him.
“So? Go on, spill!”
He took a deep breath, thinking, trying to gather his thoughts before he spewed nonsense.
“Okay. His name is Min Yoongi and he’s a senior, a year above me. He’s older, too, and he has the most beautiful brown eyes and the softest-looking blonde hair. His eyes crinkle when he laughs and his whole body shakes, making you want to laugh, too. And when he’s happy he smiles with abandon, lips parting to show the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, with his gums peeking out. He’s so small and beautiful and soft and I just want to wrap him up in the biggest, warmest hug ever, and never let him go.
“I just really, really like him, Jisoo. And it scares me.”
Finished with his love-induced rant, he buried his head in his arms, embarrassed. Jisoo just sat there, staring at him like he was crazy. “Ask him out, then.”
Namjoon choked on the heaving sigh he was in the middle of, looking at her like she was insane. “Jisoo! I can’t just ask him out! That’s not how it works.”
“Why not?” she countered, fiddling with the “L” charm on the bracelet he’d gotten her for her sixteenth birthday. “If I recall correctly, which I know I do, you were the one that pushed me to ask out Lisa, telling me to be brave and follow my heart. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t do the same?”
As if to prove a point, Lisa materialized behind Jisoo, creeping up to give her a chaste kiss on the lips. Jisoo’s face broke out into a smile, and she looked and Namjoon, mouthing “see” and giving her a hug.
She gestured towards the dance floor, getting up to go with Lisa. “I’m going to dance!”
Namjoon nodded, slumping in his chair. As they walked by him, she leaned over in his ear, whispering “go get ‘em,” then disappearing into the throng of bodies.
“Did I mention he has a boyfriend?” Namjoon muttered, jumping as someone else slid into the vacant chair in front of him.
“Hi, babe!” Taehyung squealed, hyped up on the neon drink that he was currently holding. “I knew you’d come!”
Namjoon groaned, slumping onto the table defeatedly. “What do you want, Taehyung? I’m not here to dance.”
Taehyung’s boxy smile drooped for the second time that day as Namjoon took out his anger on him, but fixed it before he could notice. “I just wanted to come say ‘hi’ to my favorite boy. Hi!” He scooted his chair over beside Namjoon’s, leaning on his shoulder. “C’mon babe, please dance with me! Just once.”
He poked Namjoon’s side, staring up at him with puppy-dog eyes as he tickled him. Namjoon laughed, swatting him away and shifting back to his mood. “No, I don’t even want to be here. I’m tired, and lonely, and I want to go home and sleep,” he explained, softening his tone as much as he could. Just because his day was awful, it didn’t mean he wanted to be the cause of someone else’s sadness.
“You don’t even know me, anyways. Why do you want to dance with me?”
Taehyung scooted back, putting a few inches between their bodies. “You’re right. I don’t actually like you…” He drummed his fingers on the table, suddenly flustered. “I was just trying to make the boy I like jealous. Not that he even knows who I am.”
Namjoon nodded, relating more to the boy than he knew. “I know how that feels. But,” he leaned back, squinting at Taehyung through the darkness. “You’re a good-looking guy. I’m sure he’s noticed you before. Don’t beat yourself up about it.” He paused, letting that sink in. Don’t beat yourself up about it? Isn’t that what he was doing?
Taehyung jumped up and shouted “eureka!” startling Namjoon out of his chair. He picked himself up, glaring at Taehyung.
The boy just smiled bringing his hands together.
“I have a plan.”