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[29 Apri l 2020]

 

Baekhyun didn’t want to leave the bed. His chest hurt and his legs were heavy. It was too early – based on his quarantine routine. He rolled over in his very long bed and yawned.

A noise startled him.

“Sorry,” the blonde said, putting her face mask on. “I’ll take the empty bottles out.”

She had gotten dressed that fast, he noticed. She was trained in such things, apparently, and he was glad.

“Thank you very much,” he said sincerely, closing his eyes. “You’re an angel.”

She giggled and picked up the huge bag with the empty bottles. Well, considering that Baekhyun drank about 70% percent of those, his body may be right to complain. He would be twenty-nine in a week and he was always a lightweight. It wasn’t like it was going to get any better.

“Oh,” she mumbled. “Your face is on the fridge.”

“It is?” Jongdae asked.

Baekhyun opened his eyes immediately. He gaped as soon as he realized that she had opened the door to Jongdae.

“Yeah.” The blonde pointed to the kitchen. “There’s a polaroid with you there.”

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae said angrily, even if the face mask was muffling his whiny voice. “I can’t believe you stole my polaroid. I’ve been looking for that thing for months! I thought that I lost it.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled and shrank so she could pass by Jongdae and leave. The bottles made an annoying noise and Baekhyun frowned.

“You didn’t, good news.” He sat up, stretching. “Keep your voice down, please. I’m hungover.”

“I left China thinking that I would never see that picture again.” Jongdae slammed the door and Baekhyun groaned. “That was my last remaining one, Kyungsoo took the others. What the hell—”

“Please, shhh.” He raised a finger and pressed against his lips, almost crying. “What are you doing here, anyway? Can’t you see that I’m social distancing?”

Jongdae pulled his mask down and put a hand on his waist. He was dressed like it was still winter and had a huge shopping bag with him.

“Good lord,” Baekhyun whispered. “You look exactly like your mother but with a terrible haircut.”

“Thank you,” Jongdae said, dropping the shopping bag. It was empty. “Social distancing, huh? And who’s that girl? Your doctor?”

“I don’t actually remember her name but she’s super sweet and she brought me beers which is… taking care of me in a certain way.” Baekhyun wrapped himself in the blankets. “And she lives on the tenth floor and is quarantining just like me, so we’re safe. I haven’t seen the streets in a month.”

“She’s your neighbor and you don’t know her name?” he asked, clearly judging.

“I know her name,” Baekhyun was offended. “I don’t remember her name. I’m hungover as hell!”

Jongdae snorted, shaking his head. Baekhyun was feeling better just from seeing him. He missed their bickering a lot – it was so unfair that they were all in the same country but they couldn’t be together.

“Do you want me to buy anything for you?” Jongdae asked. “I’m going out to buy meds and groceries for my parents.”

Baekhyun smiled like a fool. He tapped the bed, winking.

“Aren’t you social distancing?” Jongdae raised an eyebrow. “That’s dangerous.”

“If you have a virus then let’s share,” Baekhyun raised his arms, inviting him for a hug. “Come on, get over here.”

Jongdae sighed but took his shoes off.

“Uh-uh,” Baekhyun gestured ‘no’. “Take off those awful clothes, only underwear.”

“We’re not going to have sex,” Jongdae warned.

“I just want skin-to-skin cuddling,” Baekhyun pouted. “And I don’t want to cuddle your mom. I just want to grab your ass.”

He fit just so well in Baekhyun’s new flat, the one he bought because he had an amazing 2019 and got much more money than his parents expected him to. He was exhausted and he was planning to give himself a break soon, but a pandemic decided that for him. Jongdae sat on his bed and Baekhyun glued himself to him like an octopus.

“I missed you,” he said.

“I missed you too,” Jongdae said, hugging him back. “Even if you stole from me when I had you in my house as a guest.”

“Shut up,” Baekhyun laughed. “I thought you would only be here next week.”

“It’s going to be here?” Jongdae seemed surprised.

“Where else it could’ve been? Chanyeol lives on a fucking boat and Kyungsoo’s apartment barely fits his fat ass,” he laughed. “You’re living with your parents, would they enjoy listening to us?”

“Chanyeol doesn’t live on a boat and I told you that I’m looking for a place.” Jongdae was smiling too. “But I thought we would rent… a room. Isn’t that safer?”

“No place is safer than here,” Baekhyun pointed out. “There’s a thousand people coming and going and half of the building doesn’t know each other. It’s great. The doorman even lets you in without warning me.”

“I was here when you moved in,” Jongdae laughed. “And I’m bringing your groceries all the time. Plus, have you thought about the fact that everyone recognizes Chanyeol? He’s… the opposite of a ninja.”

Baekhyun laughed loudly, the sound echoing in the walls. He missed Jongdae even though they had seen each other recently. He still wanted to live with them and be with them every day.

“How are you doing?” he asked, instead of confessing his undying love for the tenth time. “Did you talk to Minseok lately?”

Jongdae rolled his eyes.

“I’m fine. He’s fine. It was a very mature break-up, Baekhyun. He’s actually better than us, Beijing reduced its risk status, he’s having an almost normal life.”

I’m not fine,” he complained. “I liked him very much. He was the only one I had no problems with.”

Baekhyun wasn’t lying. He really liked Minseok and his calm way of dealing with their mess – the fact that he never wanted to judge or stop what Jongdae had was absolutely amazing.

“What’s wrong with Sehun?” Jongdae’s eyes widened. “He’s fine.”

“He’s too fine,” Baekhyun argued. “Yet Chanyeol doesn’t let me touch him even if they have this modern relationship.”

Both laughed like little girls sharing a secret. Chanyeol’s new boyfriend was really hot but he was always hiding behind him, a little scared of Chanyeol’s friends (despite being a lot scarier, taller, and stronger than them). The last holiday that they had together a year before, Baekhyun and Jongdae were just discharged and a bit lonely, and they couldn’t help but ogle the poor man a little bit. Kyungsoo was disgusted with the scene, which made everything more hilarious.

“Well, don’t be too sad.” Jongdae tapped his arm. “My parents are arranging me a bride.”

“Oh, no,” Baekhyun frowned. “Really?”

“I had a couple of virtual dates, they’re all very sweet,” Jongdae said and both stared at the ceiling. “One of them is a doctor.”

“You’re gonna be a doctor soon.”

“A real doctor, Baekhyun. Obstetrics.”

“Damn, that’s impressive.”

“I know.”

“But is she hot?”

“She’s not bad.”

“So she’s not.”

“She is! She’s just not my type.”

They stared at each other.

“Do you have a type?” Baekhyun was curious. “I mean a girl type? Have you ever been with a girl?”

“No, but I have eyes and… taste,” Jongdae complained. “I like sweet and tall girls.”

“You’re short, it makes zero sense,” Baekhyun snorted. “You should aim for the ones who want kids. Isn’t that the reason why you broke up, in the first place?”

Jongdae made a face. He didn’t like discussing the breakup but Baekhyun was his best friend and if they didn’t discuss it, Jongdae would never talk about it with anyone.

“They all want kids, that’s why they’re agreeing to going on dates arranged by their parents. I didn’t just break up because he didn’t want kids. There were a bunch of reasons,” he said. “And you shouldn’t say anything to me. I mean, you only date women that strongly resemble your ex.”

“Because they’re short and blonde?” Baekhyun laughed. “Also, I’m not dating anyone. I learned my lesson.”

“You clearly didn’t.”

“Shut up.”

Jongdae stared at the clock on the wall.

“What do you need?” he asked. “I can’t take too long. I have to work when I get home.”

“Why don’t you stay here?” Baekhyun whined. “You’ll be back in less than a week, anyway.”

“No, I like being home. You wouldn’t let me read in peace with all that singing noise.” Jongdae caressed his face. “We have a meeting first. There’s a whole schedule—”

“I know. I read it this time.”

“Really?”

“It’s not like I’m busy.”

“True.”

“Bring me pizza,” Baekhyun decided. “Beer.”

“Vegetables and juice,” Jongdae nodded. “Got it.”

“I love you,” Baekhyun said. “You don’t need a wife when you’re a wife yourself.”

 

 

 

[25 November 2019]

 

Chanyeol opened his eyes and felt the movement of the waves. It was warm outside and he was unused to having such a warm birthday week. He noticed that he was alone and the room was still messy from last night while he was having a hangover. He sat up and he bounced a little on the bed, used to the boat’s rhythm. The sunlight was strong on his face and he rubbed his eyes, yawning.

“I made breakfast,” Sehun screamed.

Chanyeol put clean clothes on and grabbed his flip flops on the way to the kitchen. Sehun didn’t clean it but it was a little more organized. The empty bottles were in the corner and there wasn’t any food or wrappers on the floor.

“Hey babe,” Chanyeol said, wearing his flip flops. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” Sehun said, staring at his phone. “I was about to wake you up.”

“Oh, really?” Chanyeol walked to the couch to give him a little peck on the lips. “Why? Did you miss me?”

Sehun was wearing a huge shirt and his underwear, bare feet on the couch. Chanyeol pressed his face against his boyfriend’s cheek gently.

“No, it’s late.” Sehun pointed to the open door leading to the deck. “Midday, I guess.”

“Fuck,” Chanyeol cried. “We have to clean this shit before giving the keys to your brother. Is he waiting for us?”

“Yes,” Sehun said while typing on his phone.

Chanyeol looked back at the room.

“Did you pack? I don’t remember packing.”

“Don’t pack then,” Sehun mumbled.

“What the fuck were you doing?” Chanyeol asked, annoyed.

“Uploading the video,” he said, finally looking up at Chanyeol. “Isn’t my job as the social media star manager?”

It was a pathetic excuse but he was cute and Chanyeol had a soft heart.

“I’ll clean and pack then,” he sighed. “But please, get dressed. We can’t miss the flight.”

Chanyeol started with the dishes – it helped him to think. He was listing mentally what he needed to pack and bring back to his parent’s house. The things he bought for his mother and sister, the polaroid camera that Kyungsoo had asked for, a few tech things that he needed to survive back in Seoul…

“I’ll take only a bag with me,” Sehun warned.

“Fine,” Chanyeol said. They were going back for a week or so. Chanyeol had to spend his birthday with his friends and family and they could shoot a couple of videos in the city. If anyone asked Chanyeol a few years before if he ever thought about earning money from YouTube videos, he would say no. Also, his videos with his music didn’t even have many views.

Sehun, on the other side, had millions of followers on Instagram who were dying to know who he was dating, so when they opened the channel together, people were extremely interested. It wasn’t even a couple Instagram, they intended on using it for work, but any video of them doing daily activities together would be popular, even if it was kind of trivial. Sehun and Chanyeol playing with their families’ dogs, going out to buy things, going to the gym… It seemed a young and good-looking couple was the best clickbait.

“My brother will pick us up here,” Sehun said.

“Good,” Chanyeol mumbled. “We’ll save some time.”

Chanyeol bought the boat in an impulsive act. He wanted to redecorate it, get some views from potential buyers and sell it for a higher price, a simple business move. Yet the video of them spending time there got so much attention that they decided to keep it for a while.

Then they started sailing. A few brands and small businesses contacted them for advertising; at this point, they were full on the YouTuber life, with an increasing number of followers. Two years later and it was their main income. They updated their dates, their routine, talk games, challenges, music… he tasted fame in a different way.

“Take the electronics,” Chanyeol remembered. “Keep them in a box, please. We have to leave them at the apartment.”

Chanyeol was happy. He had pursued Sehun as a business partner but they were meant to be. Even if they had never gotten to date, they would still be best friends (yet Chanyeol couldn’t be convinced that a reality where he didn’t hit on a guy as hot as Sehun existed). They were always laughing together and having fun, they had similar tastes and hobbies and Sehun was okay with Chanyeol’s cheesiness and clingy ways. Their families liked each other and the fact that they found a way to succeed together without their help. It was perfect really.

A few hours later, when they were on the plane, Chanyeol couldn’t fall asleep, still thinking about it. He had been sincere with Sehun since the start, being vague about his other relationship and giving no names but making sure that they were okay. Sehun had other people too and every time they arrived in Seoul, they led separate lives; it was their deal, with just a few exceptions.

The summer of 2016 scarred him. Some nights he reminisced about their shock and pain, and the consequences that led him to a completely different lifestyle. He still had Wendy’s number saved on his phone but he never called her, too afraid of her rejection. He just wanted to know if she was okay – though her friends once in a while updated him on her whereabouts.

Chanyeol wouldn’t ruin another relationship again. He learned his lesson.

Sehun just had a bag, so he left the airport first. He promised to call as soon as he got home. Chanyeol waited until he found his suitcase and the backpack and even before he thought about calling, he spotted Kyungsoo waiting for him, in all black as always.

“Hey,” Chanyeol screamed.

Kyungsoo looked up from his phone and smiled.

“Did you bring what I asked?”

“Yes, I’m fine and okay,” Chanyeol slapped him with the backpack. “Asshole, of course, I did, it’s in the backpack. Why are you so obsessed with this camera? You gave it back to me years ago and I didn’t think you wanted it back.”

“I told you I would want it back.”

“Not when you gave it to me.”

“It was implicit.”

Kyungsoo held his backpack and walked beside him. He was a bit chubbier, Chanyeol noticed. He was eating a lot since he got his own place after he was discharged. Baekhyun and Jongdae were still buff from the army. Chanyeol was planning to enlist the next year and he was aiming for the Marines, trying to convince them that his boat lifestyle and good genes made him a perfect match for this kind of service.

“Do you remember when I gave it to you?” Kyungsoo asked casually, grabbing his keys.

“I don’t know… five years ago? I was in Canada,” Chanyeol frowned. “Whatever. How’s the party planning going?”

“Great, actually, your mother decided everything, I’m just executing,” Kyungsoo said and held his wrist to guide him. “I’m the designated driver, mostly.”

“For everyone?” Chanyeol teased. “I wanted exclusivity.”

“I’ll get Jongdae here tomorrow,” Kyungsoo snorted. “I think I’ve dropped off Baekhyun twenty times this year.”

“You’re playing with fire,” Chanyeol said, a little impressed.

“Maybe,” Kyungsoo pointed to the car. “There. I’m having a busy day, so we have to hurry.”

Chanyeol put his suitcase in the back seat and offered to drive instead. Kyungsoo looked tired and he could just relax for a little. Chanyeol also missed driving since he had started living on his boat.

“Are we going out for coffee?” Chanyeol asked, eyes on the road.

“Maybe for a day, it’s your birthday,” he answered simply.

“None of us is serving now and I’ll be here for a while,” Chanyeol complained. “We can get more than a day.”

“I’m not sure that Jongdae will stay that long,” Kyungsoo said. “Besides, Jongin is in town. He won’t attend your birthday party but he’ll send a gift he bought himself.”

“Ah, that’s nice,” Chanyeol nodded. “I mean, the gift, not Jongdae leaving early. I guess a day is fine, then.”

They faced heavy traffic on the way so Chanyeol had time to talk about every little thing that happened in the past few months, even if Kyungsoo knew them already.

“What are you doing after work?” Chanyeol asked.

“I’m going to a place to print and frame photos.”

“That’s work,” Chanyeol frowned.

“It’s not,” Kyungsoo retorted.

It probably wasn’t, Chanyeol knew it because Kyungsoo worked at a magazine and it wasn’t his job to do such a thing, anyway, but sometimes he got annoyed by Kyungsoo’s one-track mind.

“I’ve missed you,” Chanyeol confessed. “I mean, all the time.”

“Me too,” Kyungsoo said softly.

 

 

 

[23 September 2018]

 

Jongdae opened the door using the card and he felt proud for getting it right on the first try. He took his shoes off and stared at the other shoes next to the door. Baekhyun’s colorful Nikes, Kyungsoo’s black Vans, Chanyeol’s white Tommy sneakers, and his red Converses. Chanyeol was sweeping the kitchen floor in his sweatpants, humming a famous song. He had a couple more tattoos now and his hair was tied in a mini bun.

He could hear Kyungsoo talking on the phone, hidden on the balcony, explaining that he went out for coffee with friends. Baekhyun was still in bed, naked, sleeping with his phone next to his hand.

He went to the kitchen and whispered to Chanyeol:

“Do we have anything else to recycle?”

Chanyeol shook his head and pulled him into a hug. He was working out and his body was a lot cozier somehow. Jongdae closed his eyes, content. He would miss the traveling and he cherished the memories that he made after so many years, but at least he still had them around. Serving the country wasn’t as great as people promised it would be but he was learning a lot about himself. Discipline and self-reflection, mostly. He was someone who spent his life in university and then the last year and a half he had to be someone completely different.

Chanyeol kissed him gently.

“Couldn’t miss it,” he smiled. “You look hotter now. Keep up the good work.”

“My ass is still the same,” Jongdae mocked.

“The best ass,” Chanyeol agreed.

Baekhyun was stretched out on the bed, still refusing to wake up. They rented the room for two days and they still had plenty of time there but life outside wouldn’t wait. They always left at different moments, changing clothes and never going straight to their destined places. Everything was harder and more complicated: no group chat, no public meetings without other friends together, and if they wanted to talk about something, they had to ask each other out to a café meeting (the limit was three of them).

It was still better than 2017, the year that they didn’t touch each other, of course. Even harder was when three of them spent their whole year in the Army, facing the hardships without their sweet escape.

“I’m hungry,” Kyungsoo mumbled, leaving the balcony. It was cold outside and he was only in his underwear. He stood next to the bed and threw his phone onto Baekhyun, hitting the exact spot to wake him up.

“Fuck.” Baekhyun grabbed his dick.

Chanyeol laughed loudly, almost falling on Jongdae. Baekhyun sat up quickly and grabbed Kyungsoo, pulling him back to the bed.

“You asshole,” he said, but he didn’t sound mad. Actually, it took only a few seconds for him to be completely okay, judging how he didn’t mind that Kyungsoo was grinding down on him.

“Hey,” Chanyeol said. “We are supposed to leave now!”

“You can leave,” Baekhyun said, fingers pulling down Kyungsoo’s underwear.

Chanyeol rolled his eyes.

“I’ll be the first one to leave,” Jongdae announced. “I’m the only one fully dressed, anyway.”

 

 

 

 

 

[19 January 2017]

 

Chanyeol stared at him in shock, mortified.

“You can’t be serious. Next month already?” He passed his fingers through his hair, nervous. Baekhyun didn’t seem surprised or sorry about the news and he was just staring, leaning on the wall. His old room at his parent’s house wasn’t like it used to be and they probably had to improvise a bed and a closet for him after Baekhyun was kicked out.

“Yes,” Baekhyun said, mirroring his gesture. Both had undercuts right now and they didn’t do it on purpose. “You should do it too. If you get in now, you’ll be discharged by the end of 2018, like us.”

Chanyeol crossed his legs and he was extremely frustrated. He rubbed his socked feet, trying to calm down.

“I don’t wanna enlist now. My plan is to get there in my late twenties, when I’ll no longer be that young, and I won’t miss anything,” he said angrily. “God, I have so much shit I want to do and I have to rebuild my life from scratch! This is insane. You and Jongdae just— God. I don’t understand.”

“We’re in the same boat, you and me.” Baekhyun gestured. “Haven’t you noticed?”

“Clearly, I didn’t. I don’t understand why you were so mad at Kyungsoo and now you’re doing the same thing.”

“I’m not doing the same thing,” Baekhyun said, a bit offended. “I’m enlisting with Jongdae and Minseok and I’m here warning you.”

“But—”

“Can you just listen? You just need to fucking listen,” Baekhyun screamed.

They stared at each other in silence. Chanyeol nodded.

“Look, the musical is over and I don’t have any shit right now,” Baekhyun started, rubbing his own face. “No house, no job, no relationship, no time to lose. I could start again but—fuck, I hate to say this, Kyungsoo is damn right about what he said. We can’t just build another house of cards because it’s too soon and we definitely can’t pretend that nothing happened.”

“I know,” Chanyeol protested.

“Shut the fuck up,” Baekhyun said. “Jongdae finished his Masters and Minseok will be twenty-eight in a couple of months so they were planning to enlist together and I joined in because I prefer to have a completely fresh start in the future, not a half-assed one now. When I’m discharged, I’ll get my own place and I’ll audition again. Right now, I just want to get away from here.”

Chanyeol pressed his eyes with the back of his hands.

“Fuck, man,” Baekhyun sighed. “Don’t cry. Please.”

“It’s just so unfair,” Chanyeol sniffed, lips trembling. “I feel like you’re all leaving me behind.”

Baekhyun left the mattress on the floor and walked to the old couch in the corner of the room. He hugged Chanyeol tightly.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “We’re taking a different path but we’re not leaving you. That’s our only plan, right? Take a break to not let it go. It’ll be hard for a while but— we’ll be back.”

“I won’t fucking enlist right now, that’s not what I want for me,” Chanyeol sniffed and rubbed his face on Baekhyun’s oversized shirt.

“You don’t have to,” Baekhyun said. “It’s your life, Chanyeol. We’ll support your decision.”

Chanyeol cried a little because he was feeling overwhelmed and pressured. Everything seemed to be back to the start when he wasn’t ready to choose what he wanted yet and everyone was on their way to decide it for him or simply criticize any choice he made.

He broke the hug and sat up straight, putting distance between their bodies.

“I’m not mad,” he announced. “I understand. It just feels like this nightmare will never be over.”

“I know,” Baekhyun sighed, rubbing his arm gently. “But you know what? I’m not mad either. I think I’m finally moving on.”

They shared a smile.

“You’re not mad?” Chanyeol snorted. “You’re forgiving Kyungsoo that easily after that whole show? You’re really dramatic sometimes.”

“Shut up.” Baekhyun slapped him. “I’m not forgiving him yet. I’m waiting until we can be alone and he’ll probably stare at me with his big sparkly eyes and say sorry with his deep sexy voice and then blow me and I’ll be like, you did nothing wrong. That’s on me. That was my fault.”

Chanyeol laughed hard, clapping and letting his body fall back on the armrest. Baekhyun giggled too. He missed those times when they were teenagers and they could say any stupid shit that crossed their minds. They used to be such dumbasses.

“You’re terrible,” Chanyeol wiped his eyes. “And that’s exactly what you’re going to do.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I mean, I don’t blame you. Kyungsoo is the youngest and technically speaking, he’s the best at sucking dick,” Chanyeol shrugged. “He knows how to manipulate our feelings with his baby face.”

“He’s the best at everything, he, like, mastered gay sex, he learned things,” Baekhyun said, a little resigned. “That’s why his crap-ass shit boyfriend doesn’t let him go. I wouldn’t, so yeah. I understand.”

“You’re so jealous. You feel threatened by him,” Chanyeol accused. “You know Kyungsoo won’t break up so soon and the guy thinks that just the two of you were banging, so you should watch your mouth next time. I mean Jongin is super nice to me and believe me, he’s a cool guy.”

“He’s not.” Baekhyun frowned. “And I don’t feel threatened by anyone. None of your replacements or whatever.”

“Don’t call Wendy that,” Chanyeol raised a finger. “She doesn’t deserve that and you know it.”

Baekhyun raised his hands.

“Sorry,” he nodded. “I know. She’s cool.”

Chanyeol rolled his eyes.

“Hey, I love you, you don’t have to throw a fit every time,” he said, softening his voice. “Just treat our partners like you treat Minseok and it’s fine.”

“Minseok is walking on thin ice,” Baekhyun said. “He was about to steal Jongdae and hide him in the military. Why do you think that I’m going at the same time as them? He’s not going anywhere without me.”

Chanyeol laughed.

“You’re weird.” He held Baekhyun’s face. “But it’s nice that you protect us like a mother sometimes.”

Baekhyun pressed his face harder against Chanyeol’s hand.

“I know that you have different ways to love me,” Baekhyun confessed. “But I’ll always love you guys more.”

 

 

 

 

[09 March 2018]

 

It was raining.

Kyungsoo rolled over in bed, infinitely tired, and stared at his phone. The landlord answered something but he wasn’t emotionally ready for reading. He spent the last months negotiating so he could be discharged and immediately go back to his active life as soon as he moved out. But when he got home, he noticed that he needed a longer time to re-adapt; it was like the world was spinning slower and he couldn’t focus on anything for more than a minute.

He sat up and tried to see if there was something that needed to be cleaned or organized. It calmed him, putting order to things, fixing them, like it could fix whatever was wrong in his mind too. He walked around, staring at the empty walls instead.

Kyungsoo ended up cooking. His phone was ringing insistently when he was cooking the noodles so he answered, putting the phone between his raised shoulder and left cheek.

I’m sorry for calling when you said you’re not feeling well,” his assistant said quickly, though Kyungsoo wouldn’t mind that. “It’s just that I’ve cleaned everything and we can’t find the camera.”

“I understand,” Kyungsoo sighed. “It’s fine. I must’ve put it somewhere here. You shouldn’t worry about that. How’s the studio going today?”

Your Editor friend called. I said you would be here tomorrow.”

“I will be,” Kyungsoo promised. “I’m feeling better.”

He went back to his task, but his mind wasn’t on it anymore. He destroyed a lot of pictures and all the materials he used to take them, back in 2016 when it all happened, and some of them the boys didn’t even know he had. Casual, not-so-suspicious pictures that could become suspicious if the word was out. He had them in the same bag where he kept the polaroid camera that Chanyeol bought when they traveled for the first time. 

Kyungsoo always wondered where he had put that thing. It wasn’t at work and now that he had moved and checked every object that he owned, he knew that he didn’t have it at home. Maybe he had left it with Chanyeol in that bag that he asked him to keep, where he left the original Rio photos.

He called his friend, just to be sure. Chanyeol missed the first call.

Hey, man. Good evening? Morning?” he said happily. Kyungsoo was glad to hear his voice.

“Night,” he corrected. “Where are you?”

Spain sea, I’m learning to sail,” he laughed. “It’s Kyungsoo! Ah, Sehun says hi.

“Say hello back to him. Is his back a little better?”

Yes, we changed our mattress. He was having trouble adapting to the boat life. I didn’t cuz I was born to be a sailor.”

Kyungsoo smiled, rubbing his wet hands on his apron.

“Can you go somewhere private? I need to talk to you about that coffee thing.”

Oh… Yes, hmmm. Babe… I’ll go to my room to get my flip flops. Can you keep an eye on—Thanks.” There was a weird noise beeping for a moment. “Going to my room, you can talk.”

“Do you remember the bag that I gave you a long time ago? Black, told you to keep it,” Kyungsoo said evasively. “Do you still have it?”

I guess. It must be in the Canada flat. Why?”

“I just want to know if you still have it. Is there anything inside?”

If we’re talking about the same bag, it’s empty. I mean, I burned all the content.”

“Was there your polaroid camera inside?”

“Yes, but I didn’t destroy it. I mean, should I? It’s just an old camera and everybody knew I had one.”

“No, you shouldn’t. Just keep it, one of those days I’ll ask you to bring it back to me, I really like it. I miss simpler cameras.”

I can’t believe you called me because you’re missing a camera.”

“It was an excuse,” Kyungsoo said in a low voice. “I miss you. I love you.”

That’s better.”

 

Kyungsoo ended up cooking way more than he could eat and he set the table so beautifully that he took a picture and sent it to Jongin. The table was his gift for Kyungsoo’s new home and it was expensive, a real antique. There wasn’t any adornment or anything quite like a personal touch in this place yet, so it felt like their old apartment. Kyungsoo needed to put something on those walls, he realized and pictured his best works framed there.

Or the second best. His best work was undeniably the Rio photos and they were long gone, and their travel memories too, only the safe-for-work remaining. Kyungsoo wondered if they kept any polaroids, then. He could work on them and edit them to become good enough to be framed in a bigger version. Jongdae owned a few, Kyungsoo remembered the way he kept at least one in his apartment in Beijing.

Jongin didn’t answer the message, he just showed up. The knocks instead of ringing the doorbell.

“Hello,” Kyungsoo smiled.

Jongin seemed sleepy, still overdressed from the set. He smiled back.

“I hope you were inviting me to eat that food. Otherwise, it was just cruel.”

“I was,” Kyungsoo said, helping him to take his long coat off.

“I’m surprised, positively surprised,” Jongin said, closing the door. “I thought you didn’t want me here.”

“Just because you don’t have the keys, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want you here,” Kyungsoo sighed.

“It’s exactly what it means,” he laughed, a bit dry.

“It means that we’re getting some space,” Kyungsoo recited and turned to his boyfriend to kiss him briefly. “It means being safe, the both of us.”

Jongin didn’t look convinced but he also didn’t want to argue. They had a lovely meal and it helped to lift Kyungsoo’s mood.

“Are you feeling better?” Jongin asked carefully while doing the dishes.

“Yes,” Kyungsoo said. “It was just a headache.”

“It’s weird to see you skipping work. I thought it was serious,” he sighed. “If you need any help, you can just call me, you know.”

“I think I need to buy a few paintings,” Kyungsoo changed the subject, staring at the empty walls. “I need to learn about it or I could easily be scammed.”

Jongin turned back to stare at him, leaning on the kitchen door.

“If that’s your problem, I can help you,” he said, putting a wet plate in the dish drainer. “You can call me tomorrow and we can see if my friend—”

“Aren’t you going to spend the night?” Kyungsoo asked, alarmed.

Jongin kept washing the dishes, seeming to be distracted. Kyungsoo had time to spot a stain on his almost immaculate brown sweater.

“If you allow me to,” he finally said. “I’m not really sure who’s supposed to be sleeping in that bed.”

“You,” Kyungsoo said. “Besides me, only you.”

Jongin laughed dryly.

 

 

 

[13 October 2017]

 

Minseok offered him candy, even if Jongdae asked him not to. It wasn’t even because people could talk - Jongdae didn’t like to break the rules, even with something so trivial.

“Come on,” Minseok teased. “Just a couple. You’re losing weight and it’s bothering me.”

Jongdae checked if there was anyone around.

“We’re supposed to be praying.”

“Eat, pray, love,” Minseok said in English. “Like that book said.”

“You didn’t even read that book.”

“You also didn’t, so you have to believe what I’ve said.”

Jongdae laughed. Their breaks always consisted of walking and talking casually. Most people here didn’t know that after they left and reached their houses, they found ways to meet and spend the holidays together. If they found out, they wouldn’t mind, Jongdae thought – everyone knew they were ‘close friends’.

“I can’t believe we still have a year left,” Jongdae said, chewing the candy. “It’s suffocating. I don’t know how you’re so calm.”

Jongdae had been feeling like time had stretched out and a lot of things he was running to get to were actually meaningless. 

“I like being active and making new friends,” Minseok giggled. “The thing is that you’re too soft. Isn’t it great to take a break from reading and thinking all the time? No emails, no deadlines, no articles—just for a while.”

Jongdae shook his head, tired of that pointless debate. For an active introvert, yes, Minseok was adapting very well. Jongdae was an extrovert but a calm, lazy one.

“I keep thinking about what I’m going to do when I leave,” he confessed. “It calms me.”

“You need a new book to read,” Minseok tapped his arm. Jongdae had read a few, especially fantasy.

“Maybe.”

“So tell me,” Minseok asked, noticing his moody answer. “What do you want to do when you leave? Besides being a library rat?”

Jongdae stared at the grey sky; it had been cold lately.

“I want to start a family soon,” he said, mostly thinking out loud. He noticed that the thing he missed the most was to socialize, no matter if it was at home drinking wine and or going out and having the people he loved beside them. It had been such a terrible time and he had to contain himself all the time.

“I wish you good luck,” Minseok mocked.

“You’re being cold to me since I shaved my hair, I see what it is,” Jongdae slapped him playfully. “We should go back inside soon.”

“Don’t stress yourself about time, it’s a break,” Minseok sighed. “But really, Jongdae. How the hell are you going to start a family?”

Jongdae frowned.

“I’m not talking about not having biological kids.” Minseok walked closer, almost whispering. “I’m talking about… your other family. Have you thought about the disaster that it would be if it were like last year and we—you… if any of you had kids on top of that?”

None of them said a word for a long, long moment. Jongdae didn’t know how to answer, anyway.

 

 

 

 

[06 May 2018]

 

Baekhyun opened the café door and he was satisfied to see that the place was bigger and better after eight years. When they were teenagers, it wasn’t exactly the fanciest place, and it was more like a student spot for those who wanted to drink coffee and study. He missed the carpet at the door, but he was glad to know they still had plenty of sweets. He ordered at the counter and climbed the stairs, believing he was the first to arrive.

He was wrong.

“Good morning,” Kyungsoo said, looking up from the magazine that he was reading. He was sitting in the corner, black shirt, black pants, black frames, and black Vans, pretty much like any other day. It could have been a few years before, Baekhyun wasn’t that sure after being locked in an administrative office all day long. He missed the times when he could lie that he hurt his hip, he was overworked, or that he was just lazy and kind of careless – but that didn’t work in the Army. They found out about his cardiomyopathy, something that maybe only one or two people knew about before, and destroyed his expectation to be with Jongdae during his service. Baekhyun cried for a couple of days, then told them that he changed his mind because he didn’t want to third-wheel.

“Hey,” Baekhyun sighed, pulling out the chair. “Long time no see. Nice haircut, you look like an egg.”

“So do you,” Kyungsoo snorted, passing his finger through his short hair. “Do you prefer buzzcut?”

“On you? Absolutely.” Baekhyun sat down and put his hands on the table. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” Kyungsoo said, fixing his posture. “I’m healthy. How about you?”

“Fine,” Baekhyun said. “Your chest looks bigger.”

“You should see Jongdae’s,” Kyungsoo retorted. “He’s wearing a bra now.”

Baekhyun wanted to laugh but he was also still mad, so he resisted a smile. It was hard.

“I saw it, you know. Jongdae doesn’t pretend that I don’t exist, he talks to me,” he said dryly, enjoying the way Kyungsoo’s face twisted.

“I sent you a letter,” Kyungsoo mumbled.

“Fuck your letters,” Baekhyun muttered under his breath. “It’s been such a long time for me and I still miss you because I’m a love fool, but you won’t get away without fixing what happened.”

“I’m fixing it,” Kyungsoo said, too serious. “That’s all I do. You go crazy, I fix it and you blame me.”

Baekhyun cracked his neck, which made a loud sound.

“Listen, we’re both short on free time and today is my birthday. So, I don’t want to fight you. Again,” he sighed. “Get straight to whatever you want to tell me, because I hope you didn’t ask me out for coffee to blame me.”

“I’m not blaming you,” Kyungsoo said and he reached for Baekhyun’s hand, dropping the magazine on the table. “I know I was wrong for making decisions without including your thoughts and I’m so sorry for that.”

Baekhyun softened – but just a little.

“I don’t regret anything that I’ve done.” He rubbed his eye behind his glasses with his free hand, not letting Baekhyun go. “I think it was necessary. And I only did all of that because I didn’t want to lose you. It was really hard for me to build a new life and I’ve hesitated a lot… I’m not the same person when I’m not with you. I’m different. If I could, I would choose to be only the person you know, but I can’t. We can’t.”

“I don’t wanna talk abo—” Baekhyun protested.

“Listen, please,” Kyungsoo asked. “I really don’t want to remember what happened. The past is the past and it’s over. But you need to understand that we can’t forget our mistakes, otherwise, we’re going to fail again and we can’t afford that.”

“Yeah, I know, you’re not the only rational person around here,” Baekhyun said, sniffing discreetly. “I wouldn’t survive this kind of heartbreak again.”

Kyungsoo let his hand go, took a card from his pocket, and put it on the table.

“We have six hours. Find the address online, the name is there.” He pushed the card to Baekhyun. “Hail a cab and go somewhere before, buy some snacks, pretend that you’re busy. Chanyeol is already there and he’s driving. Jongdae is on his way… your family asked him to distract you for the day because they’re having a surprise party in the afternoon.”

Baekhyun stared at the card in disbelief. Kyungsoo picked up his magazine and tucked it under his arm, standing up. Before he left, to Baekhyun’s surprise, he leaned in for a brief kiss. Baekhyun was shocked and couldn’t kiss him back, but the warmness in his lips stayed for long minutes.

 

 

[06 May 2020]

 

Jongdae brought the bags inside after Chanyeol put the boxes on the floor. They were so eager to see each other that they forgot the snacks and drinks in the back of the car. It wasn’t so bad, though, because Kyungsoo and Chanyeol cooked together and it was probably the best food they ate in a while.

Chanyeol was really happy and sometimes he felt bad for it, for being healthy and well when the world was in chaos. Actually, he was having a blast, spending days and days with the people he loved without being afraid of being judged or outed. Baekhyun was taking a shower, singing loud and clear and it was better than any song on the radio.

Kyungsoo was standing on the couch, trying to take a painting off the wall.

“Do you want help, shortie?”

Kyungsoo looked back, annoyed. He couldn’t even see Chanyeol, because Baekhyun’s apartment was ridiculously large and he was blind as hell.

“No, I think I can do it.”

The painting that he was trying to replace was half his size and looked heavy. Chanyeol ran to help him, anyway.

“What are you doing?” Chanyeol snorted and held the painting higher than he could. “Redecorating his apartment?”

Chanyeol would do it if Baekhyun asked.

“No, I have to video call my family and my assistant now,” Kyungsoo sighed. “I always do it in the same spot, with this painting behind me, so they’ll think that I’m home.”

Chanyeol turned to share his impressed face with Jongdae.

“He’s smart,” Jongdae giggled, carrying the box with the beers to the sink. “The only person who cares about me is my mom and she knows I’m here.”

Chanyeol fixed the painting on the wall.

“I told everyone that I’m with Sehun and he told everyone that he’s with me,” Chanyeol said. “So I guess we’re each other’s alibis.”

“Keep it there,” Kyungsoo pointed. “In case I have to call more people.”

Chanyeol tried to make himself useful, cleaning the beers and asking Baekhyun to shut up while Kyungsoo was video calling. He pictured himself like that with them, everyday, building a life together. It would always be fun and interesting, he thought. The kind of home life he would always be excited to come back to.

“Stop daydreaming,” Jongdae smiled. “The water is boiling.”

Chanyeol nodded quietly.

That night, they played video games in bed. Jongdae wasn’t that interested, but he watched and made jokes. Kyungsoo and Baekhyun were the best players, but Chanyeol tried hard too. A bunch of shoes was at the door, forgotten. Despite the noise, he felt calm.

 

 

 

[23 December 2019]

 

Junmyeon opened the door, holding just one coffee. They had woken him up earlier because they were having problems with the substitutes. He waved to the security guard in the corner and took a look at the models – he didn’t even talk to his own assistants or go to his office. Every time they had to replace any team that worked with them constantly, chaos arose.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized to the managers and the staff. “It’ll be solved soon. It was just a misunderstanding.”

The studio they hired while Kyungsoo was working on a big photographic campaign in another country wasn’t used to the day-to-day routine. Their usual photographers were all unavailable as if they had coordinated to do so. To make things worse, it was a bunch of actors being photographed, which made things a little harder. But well, he was used to it and before he even finished, he asked them to bring coffee and some ‘gifts’ to the actors.

“Hard morning, I see.” Kim Jongin intercepted him while he was trying to hold the coffee tray. “Wanna help?”

“Oh, yes, thank you.” Junmyeon allowed the actor to grab some. “I’m so glad that you’re here. I was so worried that I didn’t even remember you were also a part of this drama.”

“I know, it’s just a little part,” he giggled, humble as always. “Be extra careful with the lead. He has a star syndrome.”

Junmyeon rolled his eyes. He knew those types very well.

“He should thank you for the good ratings,” he whispered but smiled politely when he approached the cast. “Good morning. Sorry for making you wait.”

It was just a problem of affinity – three groups (the magazine staff, the cast, and the studio) who never worked together. They didn’t value the work of a team like Junmyeon did. After the photoshoot, he approached Jongin to thank him.

“You’re the best,” he bowed.

“Don’t be like that,” Jongin giggled. “I’m just used to this magazine.”

“I’m going to my office, do you want to join me? If you have time, that is,” Junmyeon said politely. Jongin nodded and they shared gossip on their way.

“Have you ever been to the highest floor?” Junmyeon asked.

“Not really.” Jongin was putting his denim coat on. “I’m always in a rush.”

“It’s a bit weird that your photoshoot was scheduled today and Kyungsoo isn’t here,” Junmyeon said, thinking out loud.

“It’s actually better this way,” he yawned. “Oh, that’s pretty.”

He pointed to a red velvet couch in the middle of the waiting room.

“So you’ve never been here, I see,” the editor laughed. “Kyungsoo never took you to his improvised room? It’s ridiculously small.”

“I didn’t even know he had an office.” Jongin was shocked.

“It’s not an office,” Junmyeon said quickly. “It’s more like a storage room with chairs. A neat one, of course.”

He led Jongin to the room and tried to open it, but it was locked. Luckily, Junmyeon had the keys to every door in the building, just in case. He opened it and walked in, waving his arms because it was kind of dusty. It had been a couple of weeks since Kyungsoo didn’t come often.

“Not very fancy, but clean,” he explained to the actor.

Jongin was quiet, looking around with his arms behind his back, like he was afraid of touching anything. It was just a bunch of things that photographers would use and boxes with pictures, besides the chairs.

“My office is… cozier,” Junmyeon sighed, touching a forgotten projector. “There I hope you spare me a few minutes to tell me about the lead guy. He’s new, I’m sure I haven’t seen his face around here. God, I have to tell you about that—”

“Turn this way,” Jongin said.

Junmyeon turned back and Jongin took a picture of him with an old polaroid camera. It was soundless, flash off, but he blinked, anyway. To his surprise, the camera printed the picture immediately.

“Oh, it’s working,” Jongin smiled, shaking the picture. “I don’t have to shake it, I guess, I just think it’s cool.”

Junmyeon approached him and took the camera from his hands, inspecting it. It wasn’t an expensive device but it was charming.

“I like this one,” he mumbled. “Kyungsoo must have bought it recently.”

“No, it’s old, I remember it, I think it belongs to one of his friends,” Jongin said, handing him the picture. “Keep it.”

“Really?” Junmyeon raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t there a few polaroid photos? Maybe you should leave it here.”

“No, I mean, I took it,” Jongin said. “It makes no sense to keep it with his work.”

“You’re right.” Junmyeon took the photo but gave him the polaroid camera. “But please, leave the camera exactly where you found it or Kyungsoo will eat me alive.”

Jongin giggled and did exactly what he was told, placing the camera on a chair where it was easy to spot a short pile of polaroid photos. Junmyeon walked to the door, missing the sweet perfume of coffee and plastic in his office. He picked a few photos off the floor and put them on the boxes and stood at the door.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Jongin was holding a polaroid against the weak sunlight coming from the small window at the end of the room. It hit his face too, highlighting his brown eyes, furrowed eyebrows. 

“Jeju-do, 2011,” he whispered, probably reading, judging by the way he was narrowing his eyes.

“Huh?” Junmyeon blinked.

Jongin put the picture on the top of the pile distractedly. He turned back slowly and for a second, Junmyeon wasn’t sure if they were in the same room. He looked lost.

“Sorry,” Jongin blinked, then smiled as if nothing had happened. “What did you say?”

“Let’s go,” Junmyeon laughed. “I have actual good coffee in my room and secrets to share.”

“Ah,” Jongin sighed. “I do have a thing for secrets.”

 

 

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