Jae is seven and the old lady down the road that stays with him when his mother is working late has a wall full with stopped clocks, each one in a different time. She’s distant but nice, serves him stale bread and burnt cookies, lets him watch tv and put his feet on the coffee table. When he asks about the clocks, she pushes it away, with bright eyes and a smile that makes him feel like she knows something, asks if he wants another cookie. She serves it with a cracked plate, even though there’s a cabinet full of china in the hallway, says its for special occasions, for when her family visits. There’s a thick layer of dust covering the teapots.
He moves away when he is twelve, to South Korea, with a promise from his mother to not work so late and a broken clock in the pocket of his jacket. Seoul is cold and lonely and doesn’t feel like home. His mom still works late but he watches tv, with supermarket cookies and his feet on top of the coffee table.
He’s fourteen and eats lunch in a bathroom stall, talks a broken Korean with his teachers, memorizes the meaning of words on the bus ride home. Sometimes he feels stuck, like he’s moving slower than people around him. Like he’s being left behind, and the days stretch out over him almost endlessly.
He starts learning guitar from youtube videos and drives his mom crazy the first couple of weeks. The stopped clock in his bedside table marks 1:32 am and sometimes, when Jae stares at it a little too long, his fingers go numb and he feels like he almost understands something, something like dusty plates and stopped clocks.
He’s sixteen when he gets a boyfriend. His mother doesn’t care but the people at school do and even though he thinks what do they know they break up a couple of weeks later. He embraces the heartache and the lonely and drowns himself in song writing, in composition and chords. Sometimes it feels like he spends days locked in his room, between diner and the early hours of the morning. Jae doesn’t know if that’s the case, doesn’t think it really matter.
His mother has always been good at finding lost things. He could search everywhere but she would always find it. Sometimes things he lost long ago would appear in plain sight for her. He thinks he understands the clocks now.
He’s nineteen and in his second year of music composition at university. People care less about who gets in your pants and more about whether you do your work or not. Jae feels confident in his Korean now, but still sits at the back of the class and pretends he’s invisible. He ends up making one friend though, Sungjin, because they have one teacher that talks way too fast and Jae is the only one that can write everything down (Jae doesn’t tell him about his numb fingers or the hours that feel like days).
Sungjin, in turn, introduces him to some of his friends. Dowoon is cute, Woonpil is a little weird but easy to annoy, Brian is nice. Jae thinks he’s better at making friends than actually keeping them.
He gets close to Brian though, and Jae tells himself that’s because they both speak english and like the same books, but really it’s because Brian smells like peppermints and when they hug he lingers a little before letting go.
He’s twenty one when he gets a job and moves out of his mother place and into a one bedroom apartment with Brian. They’re not dating but sometimes Brian stares at him when he thinks he’s not looking and they know each others coffee drinks. Brian doesn’t comment on the stopped clock or Jae’s pitiful attempt at making cookies (they turn out burnt but it’s just like the ones he had as a kid so it’s okay). Sometimes they cuddle while watching a movie and hold hands in the dark. Brian never burns microwaved popcorn. When Jae kisses him one windy afternoon Brian doesn’t pull away, just kisses him back. That night they use the fancy china Brian’s grandmother gave him.
Jae’s finger still go numb and he's collecting broken clocks now. Hours still feel like days sometimes and the world is still moving faster then him but during those times Brian looks at him with a soft smile, like maybe he almost understands something too.