“I knew going to different universities was going to make it difficult to stay in touch, but it’s like she’s a completely different person. I’m not sure if it’s even worth putting in the effort anymore.” A voice sounded through the headphones sitting over Johnny’s ears. He pursed his lips and thinks over the words.
“JohnD, what do you think our dear listener here should do?” Jaehyun, his co-host and closest friend, asked him. Johnny pursed his lips and tapped his pencil on the desk in front of them.
“Hmm, that’s quite hard. I’ve had my fair share of difficult friendships too. Distance is a big obstacle to overcome and honestly, it can take a toll on you. I’ve lost contact with a lot of my old friends from back in America. If you value the friendship, it’s definitely worth it to keep trying. You don’t want to lose the people that mean the most to you. With that being said, don’t give everything you have to a friendship if that person isn’t willing to put in effort back. It’s okay to let people go if it will make you happier in the end.” Johnny said into the microphone before looking back down at the textbook that was open in front of him.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea, and maybe it made him look bad to the people producing the show, but for the past few shows they had done, Johnny had spent his time between calls and songs working on various assignments that were continuously being piled onto his overwhelming workload. His eyes scanned over the words but his brain kept repeating the words his mother had told him just a few days prior. That the radio show would go on even if he opted to quit and focus on his studies. That it was just adding additional stress he really didn’t need.
“Well said. People grow up and change and become completely different people. It’s okay to grow apart from people. You will always have the time that you spent together.” Jaehyun finished for him. “We hope this helps and that everything works out for you.” He tapped on the corner of Johnny’s textbook and pointed at his mic. Johnny nodded in response. Months of doing the show together meant the two of them had formed little non-verbal cues to help make sure the show moved smoothly.
“Let’s take one more call, shall we?” Johnny asked before pushing one of the buttons on the panel in front of them. “Thank you for calling in. What wisdom may we impart upon you today?”
“Oh my, I’m actually in, huh?” The caller asked, sounding genuinely shocked. Johnny gave him a small chuckle. “Well, I’ve been listening to your show every night that it’s on since the beginning and I really like it. Both of you are so sweet to everyone who calls and try to give the best advice you can no matter the situation.” Jaehyun’s face lit up, a smile on his lips.
“Thank you so much. We really try our hardest and we’re both very glad to hear that you all appreciate our work so much. We couldn’t do it without you.”
“As much as I love you guys,” The caller started, making Johnny pause. “You guys work too hard! It’s so late and you do a two hour show twice a week. And you’re full time students? You must be so overwhelmed. Make sure to take time for yourselves, yeah?” Johnny looked down at his book and the stack of worksheets he needed to complete for his 10:00 am class tomorrow morning.
“We’re very lucky to have such nice people listening and looking out for us. Lately, classwork has been a bit much for both of us, I’m sure, but it’s people like you who make the entire show worth it. Don’t worry too much about us.” Jaehyun responded.
“Classes are important too. As much as we love listening, it’s not worth it if you guys are struggling. Don’t work yourself to the bone. Please remember to look after yourselves first.” The caller said. Jaehyun looked over at Johnny. He was very clearly zoning out, his fingers tapping against the desk. Jaehyun tapped him on the shoulder and gestured for him to keep the show going.
“Thank you for reaching out. Classes and a busy schedule can be overwhelming but it’ll all be worth it in the end. We hope you have a wonderful rest of your night.” Johnny said just before Jaehyun clicked to end the call. “Why don’t we play something a bit slower now. This is Lauv’s Never Not.” Johnny added before clicking on the song.
As the first few notes play, he looked back down at his work and frowned before thinking over what the caller had said. He wasn’t working himself to the bone. Was he? Oh god, he was. He sighed and closed his textbook. Jaehyun shot him a slightly concerned look but he ignored it and grabbed at the stack of worksheets.
He spent the last half hour of the show only briefly adding in comments here and there. As soon as it was over and they were packing up, he apologized profusely to Jaehyun for being so out of it.
“Dude, it’s okay. Why don’t you go back to your dorm and get some sleep, okay? You really need it.” He said, placing an arm on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny nodded and threw his backpack over his shoulder before walking out of the studio, Jaehyun close behind him. They walked through the building together in silence before parting ways outside.
As soon as Johnny got back to his dorm, he threw his stuff onto his bed and collapsed into the chair at his desk. He reached over and pulled his backpack closer to the edge of his bed before unzipping it and pulling out the stack of worksheets he had attempted to start back in the studio. He had barely made a dent in it when the door next to the other bed swung open.
“Oh, shoot. You’re back.” His roommate, Yuta, said. His long hair was damp and slicked back and a black towel hung low on his hips.
“I do live here. You haven’t forgotten, right?” Johnny asked, his eyes not leaving the papers in front of him. Yuta pulled open a dresser and threw his towel onto his bed.
“I haven’t forgotten. I just wasn’t sure if you were coming home tonight. Thought maybe you’d crash with Jaehyun or something. Oh, and don’t look over here. Unless you wanna see my junk.” Yuta told him as he dug through the top drawer.
“Definitely do not.” Johnny said, turning so his back was to his roommate. “Why were you taking a shower at,” he looked at his phone. “1:32 am?”
“Sicheng was here.” That was all Johnny need to hear before reaching into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulling out a lavender scented candle and lighting it. “Oh, haha. You didn’t even realize before I told you.” Yuta taunted before throwing his towel in the corner and flopping onto his bed.
“Doesn’t mean it isn’t gross. I don’t need to be reminded of what goes on between you and your boyfriend everytime I come in this damn room.” Johnny said, resuming his work.
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Yuta groaned out. It was true. The nature of Yuta and Sicheng’s relationship was a bit… strange. Yuta was completely whipped for Sicheng and everyone could see it. Everyone except Yuta himself. Sicheng on the other hand knew exactly how Yuta felt and used it to his advantage.
“I expect your papers on my desk by noon on Friday. You won’t be given any second chances. If there is absolutely no possible way for you to get it in by then, I expect you up here talking to me by the end of the day. Have a wonderful rest of your day.” Professor Hwang said. Johnny looked down at his notebook and sighed. He had successfully made it through his last class and had the rest of the day to try and chip away at the mountain of work ahead of him.
He slipped his laptop and notebook back into his backpack and watched as other students began to filter out of the room. A few rows ahead, someone remained sitting. Johnny recognized the mop of short brown hair to be Moon Taeil’s.
Taeil was a year ahead of Johnny and had been in one or two of his classes before. Johnny had been partnered with him in the past and he remembered him being incredibly serious about their work. It wasn’t like Johnny was the kind of guy to put off all of his work (he learned his lesson in high school), but he never felt the urge to finish assignments as soon as they were assigned. Taeil on the other hand wanted to get the project completed within the first few days. Johnny admired that about him. Good time management.
He stood up and threw his bag over his shoulder before sliding out of the row and walking to the front of the room.
“Mr. Seo. I heard the show last Thursday. I commend you and Mr. Jung for being able to handle the stress of your course load while balancing such a time consuming hobby.” His professor told him. Johnny gave a polite smile, though he couldn’t quite tell if calling it a hobby wasn’t meant to be as condescending as it sounded. “This class isn’t too demanding so I eagerly anticipate your analysis on the Idylls of the King.”
Not demanding his butt. He only had to analyze 12 long, complicated, boring poems that made little to no sense and formulate it into a 20 page essay. The only saving grace was that he had read them before in high school. He clenched his fist, trying to ensure his professor wouldn’t see it.
“Thank you, sir. I’m nearly done with it,” a lie, “and hope to finish it as soon as possible.” Johnny told him. He let out a sigh of relief after seeing that his professor bought it. “Have a wonderful rest of your day.”
“You as well, young man.” Professor Hwang said as Johnny turned towards the door. As soon as he was out and out of sight from anyone in the room, he felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He really needed to get started on his essay.
“You look beat. Did you get any sleep last night?” Yuta asked from his spot on the floor, a few feet away. Yuta always waited for him after his poetry class so they could grab lunch before he ran off to meet Sicheng.
“About as much as you’d expect. I couldn’t stop tossing and turning.” Johnny told him, offering his hand and helping to pull him up. “What do you want to get?”
“E-e-excuse me.” A small voice said from behind Johnny. He felt someone tap him on the shoulder and he turned around to see Moon Taeil looking up at him. “You uh, you dropped this back there.” Taeil held his hand out and Johnny saw his keys. He felt embarrassed, a blush spreading over his cheeks.
“Oh my god, thank you. I wouldn’t get very far without these, huh?” Johnny joked, taking the keys from him.
“Oh, yeah.” Taeil agreed with a small chuckle. “I like your keychain, by the way.” He gestured at the colorful item dangling from the keyring. It said “Chicago” in thick white letters and had a blue guitar separating the words from a few landmark buildings. He had gotten it on some field trip he took in high school and it had been on his keys ever since. Johnny looked down at it and laughed.
“Thanks. Well, I’ll see you in class later.” He told him. Taeil gave him an awkward wave and turned before walking off.
“That was painful to watch.” Yuta said from behind him. Johnny turned and swatted at his arm.
“Shut up, man. He’s a nice guy.” Johnny told him before shoving Yuta in the direction of the far door out of the building.
“I never said it was because of him . It’s all you, my guy.” Yuta said, adjusting the bag on his shoulder.
After a rather extensive argument on where they were going to eat, the pair found themselves sitting on the bench just down the street from the normal street vendor they went to. Yuta had already inhaled the last of his tteokbokki and was now resting his head in Johnny’s lap as he finished his.
“I’m just saying, you should start giving people shoutouts on the show. And if you charge them a few bucks is it really going to be that bad?” Yuta said, waving his hands, trying to prove a point. Johnny swallowed the food in his mouth and shook his head.
“We’re not sellouts. Besides, I don’t think they’d let us keep the money anyway. It’d probably just go towards the show. Plus, I’m not exactly strapped for cash. I have the bookstore.” Johnny said before finishing off his food.
“Just think about it.” Yuta told him. Johnny nudged his head, telling him he was getting up.
“Why don’t you bring this up to Jaehyun? Maybe he’d consider it.” Johnny offered, knowing Jaehyun would give the same reaction he did. He threw his trash away and sat back down again.
“Maybe I will. So how was poetry, Shakespeare?” Yuta asked, leaning against him.
“Shakespeare was a playwright.” Johnny rolled his eyes.
“Whatever. How was class?”
“Fine I guess. We have a paper due on Friday and I’ve done all of about none of it.” Johnny said. He looked up at the clouds drifting slowly across the sky and lightly rest his head against Yuta’s which was on his shoulder.
“I can get someone to write it for you. Free of charge.” Yuta offered. Johnny laughed. “I’m serious! Maybe Doyoung or someone. You’ve been working nonstop for the past few weeks. This way you can take a little break and still get it turned in. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m writing the essay. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I bet I’ll have it done by the end of the day.”
“ ‘It shouldn’t be too difficult’, he said. ‘I bet I’ll have it done by the end of the day’, he said.” Johnny muttered under his breath. Shortly after lunch with Yuta, he decided he would go to the library and try to push himself through it. He stared at the document open on his laptop screen. All that was written was his name. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath before laying his head on the table. Mere moments away from tears, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, are you okay?” Someone asked. Johnny took a deep breath, trying to compose himself before he lifted his head. He looked up and was greeted by a nervous looking Moon Taeil. Johnny forced a smile.
“Ah, yeah. Just working really hard.” He said. Taeil glanced at Johnny’s laptop, seeing how little he had done.
“Working hard or hardly working?” Taeil asked, making himself laugh. Despite the harsh reminder that he had done nothing, Johnny couldn’t help but laugh as well. “Well, this is for Poetry 102? I can help you with it if you’d like.” Taeil offered.
“Thank you for the offer, really, but I think I’m gonna get my second wind soon.” Johnny told him. Taeil gave him a worried look but nodded his head slightly.
“Hey, and maybe you’ll get your title. I’m sorry that was probably rude. Well, good luck. I hope it all goes well. Don’t work too hard though! You won’t be able to do anything if you overexert yourself.”
“Thanks, man. I think I’m in good shape right now.” Johnny assured him. Taeil took one last look at the empty document and gave him a pity smile before turning and heading to another open table.
Tuesdays were Johnny’s favorite. Tuesdays meant his favorite class with one of his favorite people (Applied Photography with Jungwoo that absolute sweetheart) and the show with Jaehyun. Tuesdays were easy.
He was sat in front of the mic, reviewing some worksheets for one of his Friday classes as Jaehyun told some story that had happened in his Introduction to Materials class the week before.
“ ‘ The chemical engineer stands up and proclaims: “I’ve got it! Assume the can is open!’” Jaehyun finished, laughing at himself. Johnny sighed.
“JaeD, I think your joke is only funny to science nerds.” Johnny teased. Jaehyun swatted at his arm.
“No no! It’s because- Oh, whatever. The joke isn’t funny when you have to explain it.” Jaehyun said, shaking his head.
“Was the joke ever funny?” Johnny asked. “How about we take another call?” Johnny clicked on the blinking button, switching over to line 3. “Thank you for calling in. You’ve got DJ extraordinaires JohnJae here.” The person on the line giggled.
“Hello! I’m actually in that class with JaeD and I can guarantee that no one else laughed at that joke like he did. Even the professor was surprised.” Johnny laughed at the caller. Jaehyun on the other hand just pouted, his cheeks growing red. “Ah, but that’s not what I called in for. I have this friend who I’ve been close with since we were really little. She’s honestly the reason I went to university instead of finding another job. I care about her a lot and I didn’t realize until very recently that I might care about her in a more than platonic way. I don’t want to ruin the friendship, but it’s hard to hide these feelings.”
Jaehyun hummed, processing what the caller said. Johnny looked at him, silently telling him to take the lead on this one.
“I actually understand this situation very well as I’m in it too. I’ve known them for so long that I’m closer with them than some of my family. You care deeply about this person and don’t want to risk losing them. If you are as torn up about it as you sound, then it might be best to tell them about it. Just make sure that if you confess to them, you are doing it on your own terms and you don’t feel forced to do it. Hah, maybe we should both take my advice.” Jaehyun rubbed the back of his neck as his phone erupted with notifications. He grimaced and set it on do not disturb.
“I see what you mean. As much as I love them, I also need to consider my own feelings too. I can’t torture myself just to make sure they stay in my life. I hope we can both find the strength to be honest.” The caller said, sounding much more relieved than when they had first begun.
“Hopefully we can hear from you again with a success story.” Johnny added.
“Yes yes! Of course! Thank you so much!” Johnny watched the light on the button turn off and he looked at Jaehyun who gestured to the board again.
“How about we take another one?” He clicked on the next one. “Thank you for calling in. This is JohnJae.”
“Oh, hey. I had sort of an odd request. Well it’s more of a suggestion. What if you started a system where we could submit someone and you give them a shout out. I mean, hey, I’d even be willing to spend a few bucks for a chance to get on this great show. In fact-”
“Thank you anonymous caller. We’ll take another caller now.” Johnny said, cutting off the caller (though there was no doubt in his mind it was Yuta). “You’ve got JohnJae.”
“Oh, it’s me. Okay okay.” A familiar voice was heard through the headphones on Johnny’s head. “I called in during the last show. You guys have been working so hard lately and it really shows through in all of your shows. I hope that through all of this work you guys have been able to find time for yourselves. You’re eating proper meals, right?” Johnny laughed.
“Yes, of course!” He said, earning a sarcastic laugh from Jaehyun.
“Don’t listen to him. JohnD over here has the worst eating habits I’ve ever seen.” Jaehyun teased.
“I do not!” Johnny argued back.
“This guy will get street food for lunch, slam a whole bag of hot chips, and then not eat for the next two days. Sometimes I wonder how he still functions.” Jaehyun said into the mic. Johnny, feeling exposed, could say nothing. What was wrong with snacking?
“Ah, that’s not good! It’s important to have three meals a day. I should come and make you some food myself.” The caller told them, laughing at his own joke. Johnny laughed as well.
“Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer. I can’t cook to save my life. I just… enjoy convenience foods.” Johnny said, thinking about the 10 packs of ramen he kept stashed in his lower desk drawer. He tried to think back to when he last had a proper meal. His lunches with Yuta were quick and probably far from nutritious. And the trips to the convenience stores after his shift at work were probably not much better as he never seemed to buy more than just sweets.
“Oh my.” The caller sounded a bit flustered. “Well, I hope you guys can find the time to relax and take care of yourselves. You deserve to have lots of good foods. Everything is much easier on a well-fed stomach!”
“Thank you for always looking out for us. We’re working to make a show that you all will enjoy so it feels good to know that there are people out there who care for us. I’ll make sure JohnD starts eating better.” Jaehyun said into the mic. “Thank you for calling in. John, why don’t you lead us into our next song?”
“We’ve been doing some pretty upbeat songs so far, why don’t we slow it down? This is Demons by Joji.” He pressed the song and heard it start in his headphones. Jaehyun pushed his mic away and turned to him.
“Do you want to get food after this?” Jaehyun asked. Johnny pushed his mic away as well and looked at the clock.
“Dude, it’s 11:52.”
“And what have you eaten today?” Johnny frowned at the question. “We can just pick something up. We don’t have to sit down and eat.”
That’s how Johnny found himself dropping a bag of takeaway containers onto his desk at 2:00 am. Yuta, seemingly just by the smell of the food, turned over and opened his eyes.
“What did you get me?” He asked, his voice a little rough with sleep. Johnny gestured at the bag and slipped off his shoes.
“Help yourself to any of it. I’m not really hungry but Jaehyun insisted on getting it for me.” Johnny told him. Yuta threw off the blanket and walked over to Johnny’s desk. “Ya know, I love you, but I see your junk far too much.” Yuta stood there naked, rummaging through the bag.
“You’re welcome.” Yuta said before pulling something out and sitting cross legged on his bed. Johnny turned so he was just out of sight and pulled his backpack onto his bed. “I tuned in to the show tonight. Someone had a really good idea. Something about shoutouts or something?”
“Yeah, I wonder who that was.” Johnny said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. He pulled a stack of worksheets out of his bag and got up, putting the rest of the food in the minifridge stuck in the corner of the room.
Johnny let out a sigh of relief as he walked out of the lecture hall, having just dropped off his paper for his poetry class. While he didn’t appreciate the disappointed look his professor was giving him (11:52 is before noon, he had no reason to be mad), he was glad to have it done and out of his hands. He had only made it a few feet before he heard someone behind him.
“I see you did get more than your title done, huh? Unless this is a walk of shame.” Johnny turned and saw Taeil behind him, his hands buried in his sweater pocket.
“Oh yeah, heh. Yeah, I finished it. Barely on time though.” Johnny said. Taeil laughed and shook his head.
“But it’s done and that’s what matters. I know you worked hard on it.” Taeil told him. Johnny smiled, and remembered how he got really drunk with Yuta and Sicheng one night and woke up the next morning to a nearly complete paper. It actually wasn’t too bad after all the spelling and grammatical errors were fixed. “Well, I don’t want to keep you. Have a good day.” Taeil gave him a little wave and walked into the lecture hall.
“You too.” Johnny said, though he wouldn’t be able to hear him. He sighed and pulled out his phone. He texted Jaehyun, asking if he wanted to grab lunch before he had to go to work. They settled on a small place near the school and Johnny began his walk there.
By the time Johnny got there, Jaehyun was already waiting for him. He sat across from him and dropped his bag. Jaehyun looked like a mess. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was all over the place.
“You okay? You seem…” Johnny wasn’t quite sure how to word it nicely. “Worn out.” He hadn’t had a full personal conversation with him for a few days. After the show yesterday, Jaehyun had excused himself and left before Johnny had a chance to talk to him.
“Doyoung’s avoiding me. He was listening to the show on Tuesday and freaked out because I wouldn’t tell him who I was talking about. You know, the person I have feelings for. He was mad that I couldn’t trust him with this if I trust him with everything else.” Jaehyun buried his head in hands and sighed.
“He couldn’t tell it was about him? It was so obvious though.” Johnny said. This only seemed to make Jaehyun feel worse. “Why don’t you just tell him now?”
“I don’t want him to think I’m doing it just so he stops being mad at me.”
“You don’t want him to?” Johnny asked, a bit confused.
“Well, yes, I want him to stop being mad at me, but if I tell him now it’ll be like I’m saying it just to shut him up. It isn’t like that. I want to be honest with him but now isn’t the right time.” Jaehyun groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Enough about me. You work in a bit right?”
“Yeah. I have to cover for Seunghoon. We got a new shipment in last night so it’s going to be a lot of labeling.” Johnny said. He shivered at the thought of sticking stickers to books for six hours.
“What about the shoot? You said you needed to get shots for an assignment.” Jaehyun looked over the menu.
“I’ll fit it in somewhere, but right now I’m gonna just get through my shift.” Johnny said, trying to cover the fact that he had completely forgotten about the shoot and would need to text Jungwoo as soon as possible to try and reschedule.
“How late are you staying? It’s a friday night. Why don’t you come out with me and the guys.” Jaehyun offered.
“Go out with you so you can get hammered and disappear and I get left babysitting Yuta and Sicheng? I think I’ll stay home and finish some work.” Johnny said. Jaehyun gave him a disappointed look. “Okay, maybe I’ll join you later. Maybe after my shift. Maybe never. Who knows?”
“I will see you later tonight.”
He never did end up going, but something about the way Yuta and Sicheng stumbled into the room at 3:00 am told him he didn’t miss much.
Johnny had finished his second Wednesday class when he saw Taeil. He had stopped into one of the coffee shops on his way to work, knowing he needed more caffeine to get through his shift. The two americanos he had sucked down that morning had long worn off. Taeil was sitting along the wall, his legs crossed in front of him and hastily writing something in a notebook. He looked up and spotted Johnny, giving him a little wave. Johnny gave him a smile and walked up to the counter. After he ordered and paid, he stood at the end of the bar, watching the baristas hurry around making beverages. He felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Taeil.
“Fancy seeing you here. What’d you get?” Taeil asked, looking over at the baristas working.
“An americano with an extra shot.” Johnny told him. He looked at Taeil who was fiddling with the sleeves of his sweater. Taeil paused and looked up at him, his eyes widening slightly.
“An extra shot? That means five shots of espresso?” Taeil looked shocked and slightly scared. Johnny scratched the back of his neck.
“It’s really not that much.” He insisted, embarrassed that someone called him out on his caffeine consumption.
“Johnny, that’s…” Taeil looked up at the menu board. “That’s over 300 grams of caffeine. And you get this every time? How have you not passed out yet?”
“Is now a bad time to tell you this is my third of the day?”
“Of the day ? Jesus christ, Johnny.” Taeil shook his head. The barista handed Johnny his coffee and Johnny thanked them.
“Enough about my coffee problems, what are you drinking?” Johnny asked. Taeil smiled.
“Salted caramel mocha. It’s really good if you ever want to try it.” Taeil said. Johnny nodded and took a sip from his drink. “Oh, I meant to ask you before you distracted me with your addiction. Professor Hwang mentioned that we’ll need to collaborate on our next big assignment and I was wondering if I could work with you. It’s the forty short pieces and I know you’re a really good writer.” Taeil looked at the ground, going quieter at that last part.
“Oh, yeah. I’m not sure if I’ll have much time to meet with you for the next few days, but I can try as soon as possible.” Johnny said. He had to pick up a few extra shifts for some of his coworkers and he had assignments he needed to finish before the following weekend. Taeil let out a sigh of relief and smiled.
“I get it, I get it. We can meet as soon as you’re ready to talk about our focus.” Taeil looked at his phone, checking the time. “Well, I should probably get back to studying. Those As aren’t gonna earn themselves.” Johnny laughed, wondering when the last time he got more than one A was.
“I should probably get going before I arrive to work late and they fire me.” Johnny joked. Taeil looked worried.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have kept you. I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
“No, it’s fine. I’m not late and they wouldn’t fire me anyway. Well, good luck studying.” Johnny said. Taeil nodded and walked back to his place on the wall, picking his notebook back up. Johnny slung his backpack off of his shoulder and pulled his metal straw out of his bag. He pushed it through the lid and slipped his backpack back on. As he walked out, he could hear a pair of old women talk about how stupid it was that people even owned metal straws anyway.
The coffee shop was only a few minutes away from the bookstore and he made it to work just before his shift started. As he clocked in, he felt Doyoung rest his hand on his shoulder.
“Have you seen Jae?” He asked.
“Hello, Doyoung. My day has been pretty good so far, Doyoung. I actually didn’t catch the game last night, Doyoung. Thanks for asking.” Johnny said, rolling his eyes.
“Have you seen Jae?” He asked again. Doyoung and Jaehyun were very different. Jaehyun had always been a softer, sweeter guy who could get along with just about everyone. Doyoung on the other hand was blunt and honest and wasn’t exactly the most personable.
“Last I heard, you were running from him. He said you were avoiding him. But that’s none of my business.” Johnny told him, tying his apron behind his back. Doyoung sighed and pushed a hand through his hair.
“Johnny, we’re friends, right?” Doyoung asked. Johnny raised an eyebrow.
“I mean you and Jaehyun have been close-”
“Not me and Jaehyun. Us. We’re friends, right? We’ve known each other for a few years and we’ve worked together for a few months. Would you consider us to be friends?” Doyoung asked. He looked incredibly stressed and worked up.
“Yes, we’re friends. I put up with far too much from you to not consider you a friend. Where is this coming from?” Johnny was beginning to get concerned. Doyoung looked down at his hands and then at the floor.
“What would you do in this type of situation? We’ve been friends for so long, you know? Plus, he never told me. He still hasn’t. I was listening that night. When he started talking about it. I knew it was about me. That’s why I was texting him so much. I wasn’t thinking but then it hit me and I just haven’t talked to him since. He hates me now, doesn’t he? What am I supposed to do?” Johnny grabbed Doyoung’s hand.
“Hey, hey. You said it yourself. You guys have been friends for so long. I mean, sure, it might be a little awkward for a bit, but you can get past it. I’m sure eventually those feelings will fade and you can forget it ever happened.” Johnny tried to comfort him. Doyoung frowned and he looked as if he was going to be sick at that last comment. “Unless… you don’t want to forget about it?”
“I really love him, John.” Doyoung said quietly, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. Johnny pulled him in for a hug, rubbing circles on his back.
Doyoung’s shift ended shortly after and Johnny got to work stocking books that had just come in that morning. He pushed the cart around, occasionally stopping at shelves. He remembered the little boy from a few weeks ago running up to him and telling him he looked like a librarian. He remembered the confused look on the boys face when he told him that wouldn’t pay as much. He laughed to himself and put another book on the shelves.
“Ah, can I just… god, I can’t… oh come on.” Someone complained from the other side of the shelf. Johnny set the book in his hand down and walked around. He saw Taeil on his tippy toes trying to reach one of the books on the top shelf.
“Need a little help here?” He asked. Taeil jumped a little and whipped his head to look at Johnny who tried to cover a laugh.
“Oh, no it’s fine. I can get it.” Taeil gave him a smile and tried reaching for the book again. Johnny watched. Taeil stopped reaching and turned to Johnny, looking at his shoes. “Can you uh… can you help me?”
Johnny got closer and reached for the book Taeil pointed at. It was hardly a stretch for him and he handed it to Taeil in seconds. Taeil looked annoyed but grateful nonetheless.
“Hidden Bodies. You didn’t strike me as much of the true crime type.” Johnny said, gesturing to the book in Taeil’s hands.
“I guess it’s always been interesting as long as it has nothing to do with me.” Taeil said, flipping through the pages.
“I’ve been seeing that a lot recently. The book. People get obsessed with the Netflix show and buy the first book all the time. I think I’ll need to read it soon.” Johnny said. Taeil looked up at him.
“If you do, let me know. I’ll talk about it with you.” He said. Johnny nodded.
“Well, I should get back to work. I’ll see you soon.” Johnny gave him a little wave before going back to the other aisle and pushing the cart away.
“That was I Like Me Better by Lauv. That song holds a special place in my heart because my best friend showed it to me when it first came out. We used to listen to it every day together. It’s one of my favorite songs to sing.” Jaehyun said, a warm smile on his lips.
“Why don’t we go in to taking a few calls?” Johnny asked before hitting the button. “You’ve got JohnJae, DJ extraordinaires. What’s on your mind.”
“Hello! I just wanted to thank you guys. When I first moved here, I didn’t know many people and I never had the courage to go out and talk to people, but listening to your show has brought me comfort and made me break out of my shell. Seeing how easy conversation with random strangers is for you guys made me realize that I can do it too! Thank you for helping me connect to new people.” The caller said. Jaehyun’s face lit up and his cheeks flushed.
“Ah, it’s really nice to hear that people feel that way about us rambling for an hour and a half twice a week. I’m glad we’ve been able to bring you comfort when you were lonely.” Jaehyun said.
“You can’t see it but JaeD over here is blushing really hard right now. You all mean so much to us and without you guys listening we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We were blessed with the opportunity to come and do this with you guys and we cherish every moment.” Johnny said, smiling. It wasn’t rare that they got calls from people talking about how they enjoyed the show, but they didn’t really pay attention to the fact that the show had any sort of impact on other people.
“I should go, but I’m really grateful that you guys do this and talk to us. Thank you!” The caller said before hanging up. Jaehyun couldn’t seem to get rid of his smile.
“Let’s take another one.” Jaehyun said, clicking the next open line. “This is JohnJae.”
“Oh, hi hi! This is for JohnD. About a week ago I came into the bookstore and you recommended me The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into at first because I never had any need to be a caregiver, but I loved it! It has very quickly become one of my favorite books. Can you recommend any other books?” The caller asked. Jaehyun turned to look at Johnny who was frozen in place, thinking over all of the books he had read recently. There weren’t very many as he had been too swamped with work and assignments to take a few hours to stop and read a book.
“Hmm… there are a few good ones I can mention but I’m trying to narrow it down to just two.” He said, trying to avoid any awkward silence. “I would say Looking for Alaska by John Green. I read that book many times during high school. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time reading, I’d say The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. It’s very short but it’s wonderfully written.”
“Ah okay okay. Thank you so much! I hope I can get through them quickly.” The caller said.
“Thank you for calling in.” Jaehyun said. “Alright, let’s do one more. Thanks for calling in. This is JohnJae, DJ extraordinares.”
“Oh wow, it’s me again. I’ve called in a few times before.” The new caller told them. Johnny and Jaehyun could recognize the voice and they smiled. “You guys have always been what I listen to while I struggle to study. I hope you guys are studying well. Finals are quickly approaching. How do you even find enough time to study? I’m sure you’re both very busy with school work and the show and everything.”
“It gets difficult but we make it work. I’ve had to work a lot lately and it can be difficult to find the time to stop and study. I’ve been spending every available minute I have trying to get ready for exams. It’ll be worth it in the end.” Johnny said, thinking over his last week. His boss had scheduled him nearly every day and he had had to work much later than usual.
“And what time does that leave for yourself? You seem so busy lately, when do you get to take a break and relax?” The caller asked. Johnny thought about it. He had gone home after work instead of spending hours at a dumpy club the other night. And he even stopped and talked to Taeil for a minute before his shift yesterday.
“I work that in when I can.” A bit flustered at how the caller called him out directly, he tried to deflect. “How about you JaeD.” Jaehyun looked a bit thrown off.
“Oh, I’ve been pretty busy but I haven’t been working much. It’s not exactly baseball season, so I’m not with the kids. I’ll be back to coaching in a few months. Other than that, I’ve been studying a lot. Somehow I still have time to spend with my friends.” Jaehyun said, looking at Johnny who was frowning slightly. “I think it’ll be easier on all of us once we get exams out of the way.”
“I hope you guys can get through it easily and take a rest soon. I also hope that you don’t have to work too much and can prepare for your exams a bit more. I’m sure you’ll both do great but it’s always good to make sure you’re fully prepared!” The caller said.
“Thank you very much. We hope that you do well on all of your exams as well!” Jaehyun clicked the button and gestured for Johnny to continue.
“Alright, we’re gonna play a few more songs. Now let’s kick it off with a great song by Lights. This is New Fears.” Johnny clicked on the song and heard the first few notes play through his headphones. He relaxed back into is chair and couldn’t help but think of the long shift he was scheduled to work tomorrow.
Johnny and Taeil agreed to meet the following Sunday. Johnny had finally gotten a day off and texted Taeil immediately to see if he would be able to get together at the library to work on their assignment. Johnny tried to arrive a few minutes early but when he got there before they were supposed to meet, Taeil was already set up at a table, writing something down. Johnny walked over and set a coffee cup down in front of Taeil.
“I was worried I’d be late so I came early. I think maybe I’m still late.” Johnny joked before setting his own coffee cup down and pulling out the seat across from Taeil. “It’s a salted caramel mocha.” He said gesturing to the cup he gave Taeil. Taeil smiled and picked it up.
“Thank you. I’ve actually been here for a little while working on some stuff for a few of my other classes. You’re still early.” Taeil said with a smile before taking a drink. “I’m glad you got time off from work. I mean it’s beneficial to me in this situation, but I know you’ve been working a lot.”
“Oh, yeah. My manager kinda just puts me in to fill in for anyone when they can’t work. It’s not too bad though. I’m still making money at the end of the day.” Johnny said, trying to seem as cool as possible about it when in reality he had been extremely tired the whole week. “And what about you? Have you been busy?”
“Honestly it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve only worked a little bit, serving here and there, but mostly it’s just been studying and assignments.” Taeil said, looking down at the books spread out in front of him. “So I’ve been thinking about what we could write about and I have a few ideas.” Taeil said as he pulled another notebook out of his bag. “I figured we would split it 50/50 so we could each write twenty and then we’d be good, but I started writing a few nights ago and I actually finished thirty seven. Obviously we won’t use all of them because that would leave you with three, but I think at least some of them could work.” Johnny laughed and took the notebook Taeil offered to him.
He read over a few of them, nodding at some of the words. He had gotten through about half of them when he looked up at Taeil who was looking back at him nervously.
“These are really good. Like really good. You’re a great writer. Like this is really really good.” Johnny said, flipping back a few pages. Taeil blushed and shook his head a little.
“I mean I’m proud of them, but I wouldn’t say they’re all that great. Thank you though.” He said quietly. Johnny handed him back the notebook and he took it. “I really like writing and once I started, I couldn’t stop.”
“Your work is really impressive. While I was reading it, I noticed one of your common themes is about travel and living in different places. Professor Hwang said something about how good writing makes you think about yourself and your own situations and your writing really did. I used to travel here and back to the states every break. It was difficult to pack up and leave every couple of months.” Johnny said. He had spent very few summers and winters in the states over the years and it grew harder and harder to leave each place as the years went on.
“I understand. I didn’t have to move around quite as much as you, but I did live in France for a while. There was a huge language barrier when we first got there and I had to try really hard to keep up with everyone. We didn’t live there for very long but it was just so different.” Taeil told him. Johnny could see the fond smile on Taeil’s face and he felt his cheeks heat up.
“Where in France?” Johnny asked, resting his elbows on the table.
“Paris. My mother always wanted to visit and when we finally did, she fell in love with the city. We went on a lot of vacations but nowhere else captured her heart quite like Paris. It was really beautiful.” Taeil gushed.
“Did you take a picture of the Eiffel Tower at night?” Johnny asked.
“That’s illegal, Johnny.” Taeil said with a very straight face. “I’m just kidding. Well, I’m not kidding because yes it is illegal but of course I took pictures. It’s one of my favorite pictures I have with my mother.”
“Do you miss it?” Johnny asked, leaning his head on his hand. He really liked the way Taeil was so animated while talking about living abroad.
“Only sometimes. I’m grateful for the time I spent there, but this is my home. What about you? Do you miss Chicago?” Taeil asked before taking a long drink of his mocha.
“I miss visiting Chicago. I never lived in the city, but in the suburbs. It’s definitely not as busy and exciting as everyone thinks. It was hard when I got accepted into uni. You know, knowing that I’d be leaving for more than just a short break. I haven’t been back to see my old friends in a few years.” Johnny felt his nose burn slightly, signaling him that if he didn’t change the subject fast, he’d start crying. “But you know I’ve been too busy to think about all of that. Work has kept my brain occupied.”
“You work too much.” Taeil told him. “So, do you want our focus to be on travel? I think it’s pretty interesting and we could go a lot of different directions with it.”
“Yeah. And you said you went on a lot of vacations. You could talk about how different every new place was. You know, if you want to.” Johnny offered. Taeil nodded.
“I like that. And you can talk about how even though you went back and forth to the same places all of the time, it was different every time you went. You know, if you want to.” Taeil said, blushing again. Johnny felt his heart leap at how excited Taeil was with the idea.
“No yeah, I really like that.” Johnny said, taking a notebook out of his bag.
“Perfect. I’ll go through what I have and see what’s workable. I’m really glad we came up with this so quickly. I think this is going to turn out really well.” Taeil beamed. Johnny felt his heart speed up at the bright smile Taeil was giving him.
“Yeah. If you want we can get together again in a few days to see how it’s all going.” Johnny suggested. Taeil nodded.
“That sounds perfect.”
After days of constantly working and studying, Johnny felt bad for the lack of time he spent with his friends. It wasn’t that he was trying to avoid them, he just spent nearly every minute he had to himself sleeping or rewatching episodes of Black Mirror. That’s how he found himself in the student lounge, writing poems about flights, listening to Jaehyun cry over Doyoung ignoring him, and trying to ignore Yuta and Sicheng as they climbed all over each other.
“I’ve been trying to reach out, you know? I keep telling him that we need to talk about it but he’s just ignoring me. What am I supposed to do at this point? I can’t stand to lose him.” Jaehyun said, sprawled out on one of the couches, looking up at the ceiling.
“This probably may not seem like the best idea, but corner him. Bring him somewhere and don’t let him leave until he hears what you have to say.” Yuta said, his fingers running through Sicheng’s hair.
“Isn’t that a bit creepy? I mean I don’t want to scare him.” Jaehyun said.
“Well nothing else has really worked. Can you afford to be picky right now?” Yuta asked. “John, what do you think?” Johnny continued to write as if Yuta never addressed him at all. “John. Dude.”
“He’s busy working on his poetry assignment. He’s teamed up with his boyfriend.” Jaehyun said, turning his head and looking at Johnny who had his bottom lip pulled between his teeth.
“Our gentle giant has a boyfriend?” Yuta asked. “I see this dude every single day at least twice a day and I didn’t know.”
“That’s because he’s not my boyfriend.” Johnny said, his eyes never leaving the paper. “He’s a classmate. Maybe a friend, I don’t know.” He thought it over. Would Taeil consider him a friend? They’d exchanged pleasant, casual conversation over text since the time they first discussed the assignment. Could he actually be considered a friend though?
“Maybe a friend? Dude, you bring him up all the time. Get this, when we were walking out of the studio the other night, he said ‘I wonder if Taeil was listening.’ And when we went to the coffee shop and I wasn’t sure what to get, he hit me with a ‘Taeil said the salted caramel mocha was good.’ And I caught him carrying around that book. You know, the one they turned into a netflix show. I asked him about it and he said some ‘Taeil said I should read it.’ He’s practically whipped already.” Jaehyun told Yuta and Sicheng, who erupted into laughter.
“Okay, yes. He is a friend. What’s wrong with having friends? You guys are my friends.” Johnny said, setting his pen down and looking at all of them.
“And do you tell all of your other friends about us?” Sicheng asked, turning his head which was resting in Yuta’s lap. Johnny froze for a minute.
“When it comes up in conversation, yes.” He said before looking back down at his notebook.
“Oh, that totally means no!” Yuta shouted. Johnny rolled his eyes. “So what’s this assignment on anyway?” He asked.
“We have to write forty poems on a certain topic. We’re doing travel so I’m writing a lot about going to and from the states.” Johnny told them, a bit embarrassed.
“Well, Shakespeare. Read us something.” Yuta told him. Johnny rolled his eyes again.
“I’m not reading you my poet-”
“Read it. Read it. Read it. Read it! Read it! Read it!” His friends started chanting. Johnny’s face flushed and he threw his pen at Yuta.
“Shut up! Okay, fine.” Johnny groaned and flipped through what he had written. He picked one of them and cleared his throat. “Flight eighteen forty-seven. Flying home before I fly home again. I’ve done it before but this is new. Soon I’ll be catching another flight, and I won’t be coming back. My mother cries as I wave goodbye, my father strong behind her. I’m not sure when I’ll see them again.” Johnny paused and took a deep breath. “I’ll be on my own. Alone in my second home. A home I’ve never been alone in. A home that seems so empty, though I’m surrounded by bodies. But they’re people I don’t know. Flying home before I fly home again.” Johnny finished before flipping back to where he left off with his last piece. Everyone was silent. “Say something, idiots.”
“It was… good.” Yuta said. There was a long pause as Johnny waited for him to continue.
“Good?” Johnny asked. “That’s it?”
“Jeez, John. It was really good, okay? It hurt a little bit and makes me want to go call my mom. What do you want to hear?” Yuta said. Johnny smiled.
“Good. But enough about my writing. What’s the plan for tonight?” Johnny asked. Jaehyun turned and looked at him, his eyes slightly red as if he’d been crying. Johnny figured it would be best to just ignore it.
“Tonight? What would we do on a Monday night?” Jaehyun asked, wiping under his eyes. Sicheng sat up and threw an arm around Yuta’s shoulders.
“Movie night? We can rewatch Spiderverse.” He suggested before throwing his legs over Yuta’s. Johnny threw his head back and sighed.
“Dude, we’ve watched that movie like thirty-seven times.” Johnny said.
“And we’ll watch it thirty-eight!” Sicheng demanded, making the other guys laugh. “No, but what are you guys thinking?” He asked.
“Why don’t we watch Tall Girl?” Jaehyun asked. Yuta scoffed.
“Dude, literally everyone has said that movie absolutely sucked.”
“And that doesn’t make you want to watch it?” Jaehyun asked them. No one could argue with that.
“Johnny these are… wow. I knew I was doing something right when I asked to work with you.” Taeil said with a smile. Johnny blushed at his words. It had been a week since they last met and Johnny had completed eighteen of his twenty poems while Taeil had finished them all. “I can see so clearly how this place of comfort, this second home, has become this place of fear and loneliness. I never would have known you felt this way.” Johnny’s eyes were glued to the table and Taeil slid the notebook back to him.
“It’s really not that crazy.” Johnny said, flustered by Taeil’s words.
“I mean think about it. All of these stories about ufo sightings in people’s houses? They’re all just people saying ‘Oh, yeah! I totally saw something! I don’t have any proof though!’ Can we really rely on what they’re saying to be true? I’m sure they’d do anything to get some attention from the media.” Johnny said, gesturing wildly at Jaehyun.
“What, and we have to count these people out a hundred percent of the time? Their stories are consistent! Why is it so crazy to believe that there could be some otherworldly creatures?” Jaehyun asked, visibly annoyed.
“I’m not saying I don’t believe in aliens, I’m saying it seems a little outrageous that a teeny little spacecraft appears in some random woman’s house and phases through her wall and there’s no evidence.” Johnny argued back.
“What evidence do you want? A chunk of the spacecraft that didn’t make it through the wall?” Jaehyun taunted.
“Pictures, dude!” Johnny nearly shouted. “Maybe we should move on before we get violent. Why don’t we take a few calls now?” Jaehyun sighed and nodded, hitting one of the blinking buttons.
“You’ve got JohnJae. What’s on your mind?” He asked, leaning back in his chair.
“Hello! I think JohnD has a point with the whole ‘wanting to get media attention’ thing. You’re guaranteed to have some people that are going to listen when you make a claim like this. It seems like one of the easiest ways to go about it.” The caller said. Johnny looked at Jaehyun and smirked.
“I understand your point, but wouldn’t you want to know if someone found an otherworldly creature? And what’s the best way to spread information quickly? The media. I don’t think we can say that every person who comes forward with a sighting is just looking for a few minutes of fame. This makes the honest people into liars.” Jaehyun said before sending Johnny a pointed look.
“Ah, I guess that makes sense. If we assume everyone is a liar then we’ll never truly know if someone is being honest. Oh, now I don’t know what to believe.” The caller said. “I think I need to lie down.”
“Well thank you for calling in and listening to the truth.” Jaehyun said. “Let’s take a few more calls.” Johnny reached and clicked on the next blinking button.
“This is JohnJae, DJ extraordinares.” Johnny said.
“Oh, hello! It’s me again. I’ve become a sort of frequent caller now haha.” Johnny and Jaehyun smiled, recognizing the voice as the caller who would frequently check up on them.
“It’s good to hear from you again!” Johnny said with a chuckle.
“I don’t think I can say much on the subject of aliens other than the fact that I do believe they exist. I mean I don’t know whether they’ve been to Earth or not, but I don’t think they’d stay here for very long.” The caller said.
“Exactly! What’s here that they would want?” Johnny asked, ignoring the way Jaehyun rolled his eyes.
“I just wanted to say that because the concept of aliens has always fascinated me, but I’m also very skeptical about most of the claims made by people. I should get back to packing. I’m going to visit my family for the weekend. Call your family and tell them you love them! Parents don’t hear that nearly as much as they should.” The caller said. Jaehyun laughed and nodded his head.
“It’s pretty funny that you mention that. My mother’s birthday is actually in a few weeks. I haven’t talked to her in a little while so I should definitely talk to her very soon.” Johnny said, scratching the back of his neck. Okay, it wasn’t that he forgot about his mom’s birthday, but he had been occupied constantly for the past few weeks and didn’t have much time to go shopping for something to send her.
“Well there you go! It’s the perfect time to let her know you love her!” The caller said, sounding quite proud of himself. Johnny laughed.
“Yeah, I guess it is.” He said, pushing a hand through his hair.
“I’ll make sure he calls his mom. I’ll sit right next to him and watch him like a hawk.” Jaehyun said.
“Only if you call your mother too. She needs to hear it just as much.” The caller told them.
“We’ll call our moms together.” Johnny said. The caller laughed.
“Ah, I really hope so.” The caller said. Johnny clicked the button and looked at Jaehyun who gave him a small nod.
“Alright, so let’s keep going with a few songs. Thinking about my mother brings me back to my childhood and growing up, so next let’s play a song that I grew up on. This was one of my favorites for a very long time and holds a very special place in my heart. Here is Remembering Sunday by All Time Low.” Johnny clicked on the song and looked at Jaehyun who smiled at him. He really needed to call his mom.
“Yes, mom. Yes, I’m eating. Oh my god, mom. Yes. Mom. Oh my god, mom. No, I don’t need more underwear. If I need more underwear I can get some myself. Mom, don’t send me more underwear. I swear to god, mom, if you pay postage to send me more underwear I will make sure I don’t call you until your next birthday.” Johnny threw himself back onto his bed. “Yes, mom. I love you too. I’m sorry I won’t be able to see you for a while.”
Yuta was lying on his bed, his laptop open on his stomach. He looked over at Johnny whose feet were hanging off of his bed. Johnny was calling his mom almost every other day now and Yuta’s heart warmed at the way Johnny’s face would light up when he saw it was her calling. He moved his laptop off of him and got up, walking over to Johnny before laying down right next to him.
“I wanna talk to mom too.” He said. Johnny tried shoving him away but he kept scooting closer.
“She’s not even your mom, dude. Yeah, mom. Yes, it’s Yuta. Okay fine.” Johnny pulled the phone away from his ear and put on the speaker.
“Hi mom!” Yuta called, causing Johnny to flinch at the volume.
“Hi Yuta!” She said back causing Yuta to laugh and jab Johnny with his elbow. “How are things with you and Sicheng?” She asked.
“You know, we’re still good friends.” He told her. Johnny’s mom’s scoff could be heard over the phone and Johnny laughed.
“Good friends. Yeah yeah.” She said, completely unimpressed. “So tell me, is my son in a secret relationship that he’s not telling me about?” She asked causing Johnny to drop his phone. Yuta broke out into a fit of laughter as he picked the phone up. He sat up and got off of the bed taking the phone with him.
“No secret relationship, but he does have this big crush on one of the guys in his poetry class. Can you believe it? He’s whipped for a poet. He’s such a hopeless romantic.” Yuta said with a chuckle.
“He always has been. Ever since he was a kid and he would write sappy love notes to whoever he had a crush on at the moment. So cheesy.” She said. Johnny came up behind Yuta and tried to grab for his phone but came up just short.
“Oh, do tell more.” Yuta said, a smile on his lips.
“Yeah, definitely don’t do that.” Johnny said. Yuta turned to him to tease him and was instead met with Johnny’s foot hitting him in the groin. He dropped to his knees. Johnny bent down and grabbed his phone back from Yuta who had taken to lying on the floor in the fetal position. Johnny turned off the speaker and put his phone to his ear. “Don’t look too far into anything he said. No, I’m not in love. He’s just a friend that I’m working on an assignment with. Mom. No, mom. Okay. You too. Mom. Okay yes, I love you. Good night, mom.”
Johnny ended the call and flopped back down on his bed. He set his phone on his stomach and just stared up at the ceiling. Yuta had now spread out on the floor and turned his head to look at Johnny.
“You okay?” He asked. Johnny seemed odd. He was almost constantly moving or working so it was strange to see him lying there doing nothing. He saw his stomach rise as he sighed.
“I don’t know. I just really miss them. I haven’t seen them in person since freshman year and now it’s her birthday next week and all I can do is give her a phone call. And I know it hurts my dad. He wouldn’t say it but I know he misses me. You can hear it in his voice.” Johnny said, playing with his fingers. He let out another heavy sigh and Yuta pulled himself off of the floor.
“Will you visit them? Like, if you had the chance, would you go?” Yuta asked as he pushed Johnny over and layed next to him. Johnny was silent for a moment and Yuta turned to look at him.
“Probably. I mean, yes of course, but I can’t afford it right now and with exams coming up…” Johnny trailed off. His nose burned slightly and his hands shook slightly. Yuta took one of his hands in his and looked back up at the ceiling.
“How about over break? You know they’re not planning on coming here, so why don’t you go there? I can help you with the money.” He offered. Johnny shook his head.
“I’m not letting you do that. I’m just glad I’m back to calling them, you know? I feel really bad. I didn’t talk to them for months. They just… they just acted like it had only been a day since we last talked.” Johnny said. Yuta was tracing small circles on the back of Johnny’s hand.
“But you reached out. That’s better than nothing, right?” Yuta asked, trying to make Johnny feel better. Johnny smiled. It was small, barely noticeable, but it was there. That was all Yuta needed.
Johnny was forcing himself to stay awake through his poetry lecture. As Professor Hwang’s voice was lulling him to sleep, he took a big drink of his coffee and continued to scrawl down any information he could catch as the man spoke. He would usually be asleep by now, but Taeil had texted him the night before and told him that he was out of town for a few days and asked him if he could take notes for him. Johnny agreed, knowing Taeil would lose his mind if he missed a day and couldn’t catch up.
“Alright! That’s where we’ll leave it for today. As you all know, your forty piece assignment is due next Friday. I will not accept anything late. No excuses. I will see you all next week.” Professor Hwang gave the students a small wave and everyone began to pack up. Johnny took another long drink of his coffee and looked down at the mess of notes he’d written. He closed the notebook and slid it into his bag, deciding he’d rewrite them before giving them to Taeil. He finished putting his things away and stood, grabbing his coffee and throwing his bag over his shoulder.
When he got out of the lecture hall, he saw Yuta sitting on the wall. Yuta looked up at him and smiled before pulling himself off of the ground.
“Where to?” He asked, as if they’d go anywhere other than their usual street vendor. They walked side by side, occasionally bumping shoulders as they shared conversation. “Have you talked to Taeil?”
“About what?” Johnny asked, digging a water bottle out of his bag.
“I dunno. Maybe about your big, stinky crush?” Yuta asked, swiping the water bottle from Johnny’s hand and taking a drink. Johnny snatched it back and scoffed.
“I don’t have a crush on Taeil. I’m not 15, I don’t get crushes. He’s just a classmate that I was doing an assignment with.” Johnny took a drink from the water bottle and slipped it back in his bag.
“You have got to be kidding me. You’re still on this?” Yuta asked.
“On the ‘I don’t have a crush on Taeil despite the fact that I’m absolutely whipped for him and everyone can see it but me’ thing. Dude, open your eyes. When did you finish the assignment?” Yuta asked. Johnny looked at him.
“Maybe a week ago?” He said, shrugging slightly.
“And how many times would you say you guys have gotten together since you’ve finished the assignment?” Yuta asked, his eyes wide, trying to show Johnny that it didn’t matter what he answered.
“Like three. But that’s not crazy, we just study.” Johnny said. He didn’t really see what was so crazy about the idea of meeting with someone you shared a class with to study. Was that not normal? Yuta studied with people all of the time.
“John, you share a single class with the dude. I don’t think you even have the same major. Is he a photography student?” Yuta was trying to prove his point and everything seemed to go right over Johnny’s head.
“No, he’s a journalism major. He said once he graduates he’s going to try and do some freelancing to get his name out there before trying to get a position at one of the bigger papers.” Johnny said, smiling as he remembered the way Taeil furrowed his eyebrows while writing one of his papers the other day.
“And what do I want to do after I graduate?” Yuta asked, looking at Johnny. Johnny’s face flushed.
“Well, you’re an artist. I know you said you want to have a career in that.” Johnny said, desperately trying to come up with information.
“I’m an animation major with a minor in illustration. After I graduate, I want to get in anywhere where I can work on shows. Any sort of animated show. I don’t even have one specific company in mind. You could have been vague and still had a chance at getting it right.” Yuta said, his hands moving wildly.
“No, don’t even say you’re sorry. I’m not hurt or anything, but I’ve known you for years now. You met Taeil earlier this year, right? And you know more about him than you know about some of your close friends. You really can’t say that you don’t have a crush on him.” Yuta said. Johnny frowned slightly and thought over his words. He looked for an excuse but couldn’t seem to find one.
“Okay, so maybe there are some feelings, but I’d hardly call it a crush. I just think he’s a really nice guy and I like spending time with him.” Johnny said. Yuta rolled his eyes.
“Do you think of him the same way you think of me, Jaehyun, or Sicheng?” Yuta asked. Johnny shook his head. He didn’t realize he’d be bombarded by questions or he would have chosen somewhere much closer to his lecture hall.
“Oh, no way. I’d never go on dates with you guys.” Johnny said with a gag. Yuta looked at him as if he were the dumbest person in the world. Johnny looked back at him and shrugged. “What?”
“So you’d go on a date with Taeil.” He said. Johnny stopped walking and looked at Yuta.
“Oh my god, do I have a crush on Taeil?” Johnny asked Yuta. Yuta groaned and slapped his arm.
“Yes, you buffoon. What have we been trying to say for the last few weeks now? I swear you’re as dumb as a box of rocks.” Yuta teased as they turned the corner. They could see the street vendor just up ahead.
“Okay fine, I have a crush, or some sort of feelings, for Taeil. It’s not like I’m going to tell him. I don’t want him to stop talking to me just after we finally get closer to each other.” Johnny said, sliding his hands in his pockets. “Besides, did you tell Sicheng you liked him as soon as you realized?”
“Dude, I don’t like Sicheng.” He said, dismissing the idea.
“Okay so the jury is still out on that one, got it.” Johnny said with a laugh.
“I don’t like Sicheng! We’re just buddies.” Yuta insisted, hitting Johnny on the arm.
“Ah, so I guess you won’t mind that Sicheng told me he’s going out on a date with that other Chinese dude. What was his name… Kun?” Johnny said, remembering the guy Sicheng had mentioned a few times.
“Sicheng is going out with Kun? No way! That dude’s a total weirdo! He just does magic tricks and bakes cookies. Damn, he is pretty cool. But hell no. There’s no way Sicheng is going out with Kun.” Yuta said shaking his head.
“Huh, I mean I’m pretty sure he said they were going to see a movie together tomorrow. Something about the new Star Wars movie.” Johnny said.
“Oh, hell no. We were supposed to see that together. I was gonna buy all the snacks and everything.” Yuta complained as he pulled his phone out, ready to ask Sicheng about it. Johnny grabbed his phone from him.
“He’s not going out with Kun. I’m pretty sure he’s dating one of the other international students. The Thai one. Point is, you very clearly like Sicheng. You wouldn’t have freaked out that way if you didn’t.” Johnny said. Yuta was silent for a moment.
“I don’t like Sicheng.” He insisted.
As the song that was playing faded out, Jaehyun took a sip of his drink and sat up.
“Alright, that was La Cienega by Joji and NIKI. A bit of a slower song, but definitely a good one. I say we take a few calls now, what do you think, JohnD?” Jaehyun asked Johnny who sat up as well.
“Sounds like a good idea.” He leaned forward and clicked one of the buttons. “This is JohnJae, DJ extraordinares.”
“Oh my gosh, hi! I’ve only been listening to your show for a few weeks now, but it’s really nice that you guys talk to us and try and help us with any problems we have. Right now, I’m having some problems with my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for a few months, but he just isn’t communicating the way he used to. I feel like our conversations end as soon as they begin and he never tells me how he’s truly feeling. I want him to be able to be honest with me and talk to me. I just don’t know what to do.” The caller said. Even through the fuzziness of the phone, you could tell they were very torn up about this.
“I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Communication is one of the most important things in a relationship. Maybe something happened and that’s what’s caused this rift between you. I think the wisest thing to do in this situation is to tell him exactly how you feel and express your worries. It’s clear that you care for him and it might help both of you if you can be honest about what’s going on.” Jaehyun said, pushing his hair out of his eyes.
“He might not open up right away, and that’s okay. Something these things take time. It can be hard to tell someone everything you’re feeling right away, but it’s very important to keeping a happy and healthy relationship.” Johnny added. The caller sighed.
“I see. I’m not quite sure how to approach him though. I don’t want to overwhelm him if something is in fact wrong.” They said. There was a slight shuffling on the other side of the line.
“I would just tell him that you have something important to tell him. Make sure you make it clear that this is something you’ve been thinking about for a while. If he starts to get uncomfortable, you can always take a break from the subject and come back to it at a better time. Just make sure that you’re honest with all of your feelings.” Jaehyun said.
“Okay, I see. Thank you so much. I’m very grateful for your help.” The caller said.
“We wish you the best of luck going forward with this and hope to hear good things.” Johnny told them before giving Jaehyun a thumbs up.
“Let’s go to the next caller now.” He clicked the next button. “This is JohnJae, what’s up?”
“Hello! I just called in to tell you guys that I really love your show and you guys have put me on to a lot of really great music. I’ve found a couple new favorite songs just from you guys and I’ve expanded my playlist.” The new caller told them. Johnny smiled.
“That’s so nice to hear. I really love music and I’m glad I can share some of my favorites with everyone else.” Jaehyun said, a huge smile practically overtaking his face.
“I was wondering if you guys could suggest a few more songs.” The caller told them.
“Yes, of course! I’ve been listening to You Back Then by Siyoon and Jayeong Seo. It’s a bit sad but it’s really nice to listen to late at night.” Jaehyun said. “What about you, JohnD?”
“Hmm… I would probably say… Nobody by Mitski. I listened to it on repeat when I first heard it and it’s in a few of my playlists.” Johnny said, thinking over the first time he heard that song.
“Thank you very much! I’ll listen to them as soon as the show is over.” The caller said. Jaehyun clicked on the next button and gestured to Johnny.
“How about we take one more call, yeah? You’ve got JohnJae.” Johnny said leaning back in his shows.
“Hello again. It’s me, your frequent caller. I usually don’t like to talk about my problems so much but I really need some advice on this.” Their caller said. Johnny nodded.
“Of course. What’s going on?” Jaehyun asked.
“I think I’ve developed feelings for someone close to me. I didn’t think it was going to happen but it didn’t before I could notice. I want to talk to them about it, but I’m nervous for what they’d say. I’m really not sure what to do.” The caller said.
“I think the best-”
“Taeil, where did you move the cat food to? Sakura needs to eat before she becomes a grumpy kitty.” Johnny was interrupted by someone on the other line. Jaehyun’s jaw dropped and Johnny froze in place.
“Oh, haha I should get going. I’ll figure it out okay bye.” The call ended and Johnny couldn’t move. Jaehyun shook off his surprise, trying to avoid any awkward silence.
“Well, with that, I think we should get right into the next song. Here’s I Wanna Be Yours by Arctic Monkeys.” Jaehyun clicked on the song and it began to play. He looked over at Johnny who had slumped back in his chair but still looked dazed.
As soon as he walked into his dorm, Yuta practically jumped him.
“Dude, did you hear that? I mean of course you heard it, but can you believe it? Your frequent caller was Taeil the whole time!” Yuta said as if Johnny had missed that portion of the show. “Man, Jaehyun had to pretty much carry the show for a good ten minutes after that. You didn’t say anything. You must have been really surprised.”
Johnny dropped his bag near the foot of his bed and flopped onto it, not even bothering to take off his jacket. He buried his face in the pillow and sighed.
“Are you okay? Like are you going to start crying? Tears of joy maybe?” Yuta teased. Johnny lifted his head just enough so that Yuta would hear him speaking.
“Why would I cry? He just likes someone.” Johnny said before letting his head fall back down again.
“Yeah, you.” Yuta pushed Johnny’s legs out of the way and sat on the edge of the bed.
“He said someone he’s close to. We only met a few months ago.” Johnny said, turning so he could just see Yuta.
“Oh, you idiot.” Yuta said, giving Johnny a pat on the butt. “It’s you. I can guarantee it.”
“I can guarantee you’re wrong. Now shut up and let me sleep for the next few days.”
Almost a week after that show, Jaehyun had finally convinced Johnny to go out to lunch with him. He hadn’t done much more than attend classes and work since then. He’d only exchanged a few words with Yuta and hadn’t gone out with him whenever they were all set to meet up. And now Jaehyun was sat in front of Johnny who was slowly eating the food in front of him.
“Did you ever turn in your poetry assignment?” He asked, trying to make conversation though Yuta warned him he wouldn’t be very responsive. Johnny nodded and took another bite.
“We got it in on time. Actually a bit early. How are things with Doyoung?” He asked before taking a drink from his coffee. It was practically the only thing Jaehyun or Yuta saw him ingest in the past few days.
“Actually, pretty well. I finally got him to sit down and talk to me. It was kind of awkward at first but it got easier as we talked about it. We really like each other but we’re going slow and trying to figure out being in a relationship versus being good friends. Honestly not much has changed.” Jaehyun said, his cheeks pink. Johnny couldn’t help but smile.
“I’m really happy for you guys. I was wondering how long it was gonna take.” Johnny said before taking another bite.
“Have you talked to Taeil since the show?” Jaehyun asked figuring it would need to come up eventually. Johnny sighed and shrugged a little.
“We turned in the assignment but I haven’t seen him since then. We’ve texted a few times but nothing more than a few here and there.” He said. Jaehyun raised a brow and tried to read Johnny’s expression.
“And you’re happy with that?” Jaehyun asked.
“I mean it sucks, but I really don’t know what I can say. I don’t want to seem like a jerk but I can’t think of what to say without embarrassing myself or making it awkward.” Johnny told him. He sighed and took another drink of his coffee.
“Johnny,” Jaehyun leaned across the table and grabbed Johnny’s hand, “You can still be friends with him. It may be a bit strange at first, but you don’t need to cut him off. He doesn’t deserve that.”
Johnny thought over what Jaehyun had said throughout his shift. He was sitting behind the counter at the register and tapping his fingers and thinking over what he was going to say to Taeil. Maybe he should ask him to meet up. Or maybe he should just text him.
“Johnny.” Or maybe none of that matters because Taeil was now standing in front of him with a few books in his arms. Johnny smiled at him and Taeil set the books down. “I’m sorry I haven’t seen you in a while.” He said, looking at the books. Johnny took the first one and scanned it.
“You don’t need to apologize. We all have things come up sometimes.” Johnny told him, trying to act calm when in reality, he was panicking.
“But I kind of disappeared a bit. You don’t deserve that. I guess I was just a bit embarrassed.” Taeil said with a slight chuckle at the end. Johnny felt his heart speed up at the sound.
“There was no reason to be embarrassed. It’s normal.” Johnny said trying to make Taeil feel better.
“But still. Almost everyone on campus listens to your show. Everyone who knows me knows now. It’s just so… weird.” Taeil ran his finger over the edge of the counter as Johnny picked up the next book and scanned it.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re a really nice guy. Whoever it is is really-”
“It’s you, Johnny.” Taeil said, his eyes looking at the last book between them. Johnny paused, the book he had just scanned, hanging over the paper bag next to the register. “I was talking about you.” Taeil added quietly. Johnny set the book in the bag and picked up the next one.
“Oh.” He said, scanning the book and putting it with the other two.
“Oh? That’s it? Just oh? Oh my god I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking when I called in and my stupid roommate Taeyong came in talking about our stupid cat. Well she’s not a stupid cat and I love her but-”
“I like you too, you know.” Johnny said, pushing the bag across the counter. Taeil’s head snapped up, his eyes wide, his hands shaking just slightly. “I like you too. I panicked when I heard your name. Everything in my mind was telling me that it wasn’t me. I gotta say, I’m pretty glad it was.” Taeil blushed and pulled at the sleeves of his sweater.
“Of course it’s you. You’re sweet and funny and really smart and really good at photography and writing.” Taeil gushed. Johnny blushed, flustered by Taeil’s words. He felt incredibly stupid for moping about it the last few days. “I’m sorry, you probably want to get back to work.”
“While I don’t exactly want to, I probably should. Can I see you tonight?” Johnny asked. Taeil smiled and nodded.
“Yeah, definitely. Text me when you have time, okay?” Taeil said. Johnny nodded, his heart beating hard against his ribcage. He really couldn’t wait for his shift to end.
“For sure. Oh, and that’ll be $42.38.”