Actions

Work Header

break and burn and end

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

[May 3, 2010]

 

Baekhyun opened the door to the cafe. He didn't particularly like coffee shops - they were quiet, they didn't have a lot of food, and you couldn't talk out loud. He only went to cafes when he was sad. He rubbed his dirty and ripped Nike on the small carpet that said 'welcome!' And looked around. Chanyeol was sitting in the corner, reading comics. Baekhyun asked him out; they wanted to see a movie, eat popcorn and make small talk. Chanyeol had no idea about what Baekhyun had planned. There was a couple at the back table, a lady being attended to and a boy sitting in the chair by the door. He looked up and faced Baekhyun. He wore thick glasses, had short black hair and a tough look in his eyes. Baekhyun looked at his lips and sighed without restraining.

Then he turned and shouted:

"Any virgin under the age of twenty, please come to a table upstairs if you want to stop being a loser," Chanyeol had turned around and he was looking at Baekhyun in fright, wide eyes and the magazine was already on the floor. "I have this problem to solve today."

That said, Baekhyun ignored his best friend and climbed the stairs slowly. He looked back and then went up, step by step. The table where he used to sit was on the first floor, which had no window and was dark, dimly lit and almost no customers. It was good to listen to that sad soundtrack and cry sometimes. Cafes had their use.

"Well, now everyone knows I'm a virgin," Chanyeol said, placing his heavy backpack on the chair next to it. “Thanks a lot. If I knew you would do that, I wouldn't even have come.”

He sat in front of Baekhyun and sighed.

"Everyone knows that you are a virgin, Chanyeol," Baekhyun said, analyzing the menu. “It's in your face. It can be read on the curve of your ears.”

"Do you need to make a scene like that?" Chanyeol said, but he was red. "Are we going to see the movie or not?"

"It depends on whether we get what I need," Baekhyun pointed to the menu. "Coca-Cola plus an expresso should keep us on all night, right?"

"Probably," Chanyeol said. "Are you trying to get high?"

"Maybe," Baekhyun shrugged. "There's a guy from our school here, did you see?"

"Yeah," Chanyeol took the menu from Baekhyun's hand. “Kyungsoo. He takes a drawing class with me. ”

"You don't even attend that class."

"Indeed," Chanyeol laughed. “But he does. I think he's good at that. ”

"He has a mouth that ..." Baekhyun said thoughtfully. "There are people who exude sex, I don't know."

"You're the pervert," Chanyeol laughed heartily, shoulders shaking inside his coat. “Not everyone thinks about sex all the time. I think he's cute.”

"And what do you think about?"

"Music," Chanyeol said. “I've been trying to compose since morning and I can't. It just doesn't come out. ”

Someone went up the stairs and Baekhyun's heart beat faster. He unconsciously pushed his hair back - it was long and he wanted to dye it pink, but he was trying to convince his mother first.

It was the guy who worked at the cafe. He was very young and had a face that never stopped smiling. Thin. Nice.

"Hello," he said, rubbing his hands on the thin green apron of the coffee house.

"Hi," Chanyeol turned his long neck back. "Is there a vegetarian choice for this pastry?"

"Meat, chicken and soy," he said. "It's frying."

"I haven't decided on coffee yet," Baekhyun said. “Would it be weird to order a large espresso? Like in a glass of milkshake? ”

"Do you want to die?" Chanyeol frowned and turned to the attendant. “Don't engage with him; he wants to end up going to jail. He can't take any crap, it's just a threat. He only knows how to bark, I swear.”

"Ah, but I hope he doesn't make any empty promises," he said, smiling. "I didn't come here to take your order."

Baekhyun and Chanyeol were silent, confused.

"I'm 18," he said, smiling. The name on his tag was KIM JONGDAE. “And I'm a virgin. And coincidentally, a Virgo, which is the Latin word for virgin, so there's no way I could have been wrong about what kind of virgin you want. What do you want to talk to me about?”

Chanyeol slowly turned to face Baekhyun.

"Sit down," Baekhyun pushed Chanyeol's backpack and tapped the chair. "I have a proposal."

The boy went quietly and sat down, hands on his lap, a slight smile on his face. Baekhyun immediately liked him. It had to take courage and detachment to make such a simple gesture. Baekhyun liked the brave ones. It was what he wanted to be, completely fearless.

"I'll buy you coffee," Chanyeol said. "I already know it's going to suck, at least I pay for the mental damages."

"I think you used to have more faith in me," Baekhyun shook his head, pretending to be disgusted. "So, Jongdae, do you like girls or boys?"

"My god," Chanyeol sighed. "We will be arrested for sexual harassment."

"Whatever," Jongdae said, shrugging his shoulders. He had a nice voice. "It's not like I could choose, otherwise I wouldn't be a virgin."

"Wide options," Baekhyun tapped him on the shoulder. "I like that. The bare reality.”

"Can you get to the point?" Jongdae asked. "In theory, I'm working."

"My name is Baekhyun, this is Chanyeol, we are eighteen and we are virgins," Baekhyun spoke under Chanyeol's protesting gaze. "And we don't care about those details, either."

"We have a lot of things in common, like liking girl bands, running, dogs and not studying," Chanyeol said, counting on his fingers. “And as you can see, we don't judge. If I had any discernment, I would have gotten up and left.”

"Nice to meet you," Jongdae said. "My name is Jongdae and I even like dogs and music, but what I really love is to sleep."

"Good, good," Baekhyun said, smiling. “Well, My birthday is in a few days. Then I'll be nineteen. And I don't want to be a nineteen-year-old virgin.”

"Understandable," Chanyeol added. "I have a few months to reflect on that."

"So…?" Jongdae asked.

"So I was wondering if you don't feel like losing your virginity with us," Baekhyun said quietly. “My parents are traveling this weekend and my older brother is going to sleep at his girlfriend's house. We have time for that. My house is big and my bed is a double."

Chanyeol stretched out his entire arm and slapped Baekhyun so loudly that it could be heard downstairs.

"Are you crazy?" He spoke while Bakehyun screamed in pain. “Do you arrive out of nowhere inviting strangers for a threesome? And does it include me too? Do you know if I want to participate? Sorry, Jongdae. He's crazy. Crazy. Clueless."

“First, I know you want to, you never say no to anything I say. Second, I don't want to lose my virginity to you, okay? You are my best friend and this is depressing,” Baekhyun said, smoothing his own arm. “Now with you and more people, it's fine. Jongdae here is very handsome and friendly and he will certainly know how to admire what we have to offer.”

Jongdae was laughing. Chanyeol was a little confused.

"Look, you guys are really funny," he didn't seem offended or surprised. “I can't agree immediately, I don't know you. But it is a good proposal. Nobody even wanted to kiss me before, I'm grateful.”

"Really?" Baekhyun was confident. “Well, when are you leaving here? We can watch a movie together. It's the first step.”

"In three hours," Jongdae checked his watch. “Ah, I have to go back. Do you already know what you are going to order?”

Chanyeol opened his mouth to say something, but a figure on the stairs made Baekhyun's eyes widen. Chanyeol turned and Jongdae raised an eyebrow.

"Hello," the boy said.

"Hi, Kyungsoo," Chanyeol said immediately, looking a little pale. "Have you been there a long time...?"

"Yes," he said, walking over to the table. He was all in black, in gym-like baggy clothes. "I went up and sat on the stairs to listen."

He said it so simply that no one had an appropriate reaction.

"Anh ..." Baekhyun blinked. "Because...?"

"Because I'm eighteen and a virgin," Kyungsoo said. “But I don't know you enough to tell you that. I wanted to hear about it first.”

"Ah," Chanyeol swallowed. "Excuse us. Baekhyun has problems. He was just kidding, don't take it seriously.”

"Shut up," Baekhyun said, kicking Chanyeol under the table and turning to get a better look at Kyungsoo. "Maybe... what did you think of the proposal, huh?"

"Inappropriate," Kyungsoo said seriously and Baekhyun deflated like a balloon.

"Indeed," Chanyeol said, kicking Baekhyun back. "Did you see?"

"But I would," Kyungsoo said.

Jongdae laughed out loud.

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

[June 6, 2016]

 

 

Baekhyun jumped out of the car almost in motion. He stumbled but didn't fall, the backpack sliding off his shoulder.

"If you want to die," Taeyeon screamed from the window. "I'll shoot you myself."

Baekhyun blew air kisses at her and she laughed, driving away. He continued walking and waved to a colleague as he passed the entrance to the building. He went through the building's turnstile after touching the card, but the security guard already smiled at him, recognizing him. He took the elevator up in silence, among eight people. "You are so quiet when I see you alone," Jongdae said one day, "It's scary." Baekhyun met his friends in the rehearsal room, already going to change clothes. He decided to do a physical and vocal warm-up before putting on his clothes. Then he went to the bathroom to get dressed. When he took his phone out of his pants, he found the messages.

 

pcy: I checked and this hotel is the cheapest

pcy: it's cool, has wifi, seriously

pcy: at least take a look, Kyungsoo.

dks: you are not adding distance from places

dks: there's no use in spending less on the hotel and more w/ car or transportation

dks: like this, it's better to rent the house and not leave the surroundings

pcy: send me the spreadsheet you made

kjd: will i try to contact the house owner then?

 

Baekhyun typed before changing,

 

bbh: i can't read now, but i promise i'll see everything when i get home!

 

The rehearsal lasted an hour longer than planned and Baekhyun ate on the way to the studio. There was nothing new to be done, just sit and put the clothes in their proper places. He finally had time to read all the messages and open the spreadsheet that Kyungsoo did religiously when they scheduled the trip. Baekhyun was terrible at that part; he was good with guides, to roll his tongue with new accents and find the right people. He was good on the trip, not before it. Chanyeol and Kyungsoo were the spreadsheet nerds.

Taeyeon arrived on time and he even forgot that he had to send a message.

"It's a miracle," he said, slamming the car door.

"Put on your belt and don't complain," she said, looking at the track. Her half-loose bun was letting her hair fall on her eyes and he carefully removed them. The cell phone beeped nonstopping, the group was in full activity. "What is it?"

"The trip," he said, yawning. The cell phone was in his lap, skidding on his jeans. "It's next month, have you forgotten?"

"Ah," she shook her head. "Really. I had forgotten…"

"It's four years old already," Baekhyun nudged her. "You forgot that you'll be without your boyfriend for almost a whole month."

"You're right," she smiled. "How could I forget my only moment of peace?"

"Shut up," he blinked. Traffic was bad, an accident on the way. He changed the radio station and she let go of the wheel, after so long in the traffic jam.

"I haven't seen Chanyeol lately," she said suddenly. "The other two I barely see, but where is he?"

"He moved to Canada last year," Baekhyun laughed, swinging his legs. "You're not right in the head, are you?"

"You have so many friends, I can't remember what happens to every one of them," she mumbled and they interlaced their fingers unconsciously. It was an old habit. "Enjoy that we won't be leaving here anytime soon and tell me about them."

Baekhyun sighed. He was not afraid to talk about them. When they all met Taeyeon three years ago, Kyungsoo was unable to make any facial expressions and Jongdae was nervous enough to stutter. But Baekhyun feared nothing. They were indeed friends, after all. He was not lying.

"Chanyeol went to Canada to live with his girlfriend," Baekhyun said, relaxing on the bench and looking forward. "He is fine. He doesn't have much money, but he is working. ”

"Is she from Canada?" Taeyeon asked.

“Ah, no, she's from here, but she lived there for a while. You like it better there, I guess,” Baekhyun explained. "Jongdae went to do the blessed exchange in China and just come home to visit, do you remember him?"

"Yes," she said. "He looks like Jonghyun."

"This one," Baekhyun laughed. The resemblance was real. “Kyungsoo lives here, but he has about five jobs and twenty dogs to look after, so I can never see him. He also travels a lot. ”

"The photographer," Taeyeon said.

"Yes," Baekhyun shook her hand gently. “He is an award-winning photographer. Much in demand ”

"And can you all still spend a month traveling?" She questioned, letting go of his hand to get behind the wheel again.

“Well, it's our tradition. It wasn't always a month. When we were eighteen, it was a weekend, twenty was two weeks, twenty-two, a month ... ”

"It won't be more than that, right?" She asked, suspicious. "You need to pay the bills too, I'm not your sugar mama."

"You could pretend to miss me and not my money," Baekhyun complained. "I am not good enough to pay the bills."

"Is that what your friends' partners complain about after a month of you traveling around while we work?"

"Partners," he said enthusiastically. "You remembered that they date men!"

"Yes," she said, yawning. “Jongdae had about five boyfriends, Kyungsoo has a secret relationship. You complain about it a lot.”

He grabbed the sleeve of her plaid shirt and shook it.

"My god, my love," he said in disbelief. “You really listen to me! Come and give me a kiss!”

"Get out," Taeyeon pushed his face with her hand and got rid of the shirt pulling at the same time. "Okay, and where are you going this year?"

"Hmm," Baekhyun made suspense. "Japan!"

"Ah," she yawned again. "Nice."

"Pretend to be excited," Baekhyun grunted and started looking for some candy left behind in the car. Last time, he found a couple of jelly beans from two years before and they were still chewable.

"You have already gone to the other side of the world," she had an irrefutable point. "Japan is not that far."

"We'll go to the countryside, not Tokyo," Baekhyun spoke casually. “Fishing, seeing people's lives, drinking sake and sleeping. There is no good signal to talk on the phone and you know that the deal is to disconnect. ”

“It seems kind of boring to do this for a whole month,” she went back to driving.

"This is the only time of year that Kyungsoo sleeps," Baekhyun laughed. "Besides, I love my men."

"I'm going to enjoy partying without you knowing," she raised her eyebrows suggestively. "Finally I will be able to eat my sweets at home without them disappearing at dawn."

"Do whatever you want, my princess," he blinked seductively. "You know that I'm the best boyfriend in the world."

"Say that again when you don't eat my fucking ice cream while I'm sleeping."

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

[January 13, 2013]

 

Baekhyun went up and down the stairs searching for a more stable signal. The internet wasn't good and he was afraid of accidentally disconnecting from the videoconference.

"I swear to god, Kyungsoo," Chanyeol's face was now almost noticeable in one of the squares. "If you don't leave the house even a day after your birthday, I don't even know what I'm going to do—"

"I'm going to make dinner here at home," Jongdae said, his voice a little distant, their faces dark on the screen. “There will be a cake, candles, ballons and adult food. If you get there on time, you can still eat a little.”

"When will it be?" Baekhyun gave up and sat in the middle of the stairs. "The dinner date, I mean."

"On Saturday," Jongdae said, laughing. "In the middle of the week I can't prepare anything."

"It won't be a party," Kyungsoo clarified quickly. "I'm just going to take my parents and my brother."

"Are your parents going?" Chanyeol was offended - Baekhyun knew from the tone of his voice. “Oh, no, I'm going to change my flight to Friday. I will not let you introduce Jongdae as your boyfriend.”

Jongdae laughed and Baekhyun looked down, where his phone was on the table, still vibrating with the messages. It was almost four months old and he still hadn't had the courage to say it. He would be the first - which was not surprising since his job was to get things started. He was also the oldest, so he should have that right.

"My mom and Jongdae's mom are friends," Kyungsoo explained, sounding tired of this whole conversation. “I've said this a lot of times. Nobody thinks he's my boyfriend.”

"He's literally having your birthday party at his house," Chanyeol argued.

"And?" Baekhyun could see Kyungsoo's eyebrow lift, even though the image was so dark.

"I hate to disturb the pointless discussion," Baekhyun coughed. "But I'm dating."

He didn't quite know what to expect, but three incredulous guys weren't at the top of the list of possible reactions. Chanyeol was even making a disgusted expression.

"With a person?" Jongdae asked. "Like, a person ... real person... besides us?"

"Yeah, a girl," Baekhyun said, his sweating hands holding the laptop. “I mean, a woman. She is older than me.”

"You're dating," Kyungsoo sounded really confused. "Does she know that she's dating you?"

"Of course she does," Baekhyun took a deep breath. “I will go out with her later. We've been together for four months.”

"Four months," Chanyeol was gaping. “And you only tell us now? I tell you every time I bang someone.”

"And nobody wants to know, nobody asked," Jongdae rolled his eyes (almost affectionately). "I thought you were traveling for work, Baekhyun."

"She's in the musical too," he said quietly, even though no one could hear in that old house. "I'm staying with her family."

"Has the family already been introduced ...?" Kyungsoo now sounded like an interrogator. "And she wasn't introduced to us all?"

"I didn't even know we could date, honestly speaking," Chanyeol rubbed his face. "I mean, we don't have a contract preventing it, of course, but ..."

"Does this cancel our mid-year trip?" Jongdae sounded concerned. "I've been starving here to save money."

"Hey, hey, hey, calm down," Baekhyun almost shouted. “First, I only know her mother, the house is empty. Second, everyone can date, this is not marriage, no. And lastly, no, not at all. Our time together is sacred to me!”

"But..." the internet decided to work and now Baekhyun could see Chanyeol's confused face perfectly. "And ... do we ... are we going to ...?"

The hand gesture was a little scandalous, but if it wasn't, it wouldn't be Chanyeol.

"Yes," Baekhyun shrugged. "Why not?"

"Is your girlfriend aware of this?" Kyungsoo didn't relax for even a second. "Or don't you intend to continue the relationship until then?"

Jongdae was just watching.

"I see one thing as different from the other," Baekhyun sighed. “I only see you once a year. It's not like you're my lovers or anything. By that logic, she would be the other one.”

"It's a very elegant way of saying that you are going to cheat on someone," Chanyeol grunted. “Look, not bringing any STDs, this is not my problem. But it’s not right, no, no, no.”

"I agree," Kyungsoo said.

"I don't remember asking for anyone's opinion," Baekhyun frowned. "Especially because one day you will also be dating and you will only get rid of me in the next incarnation if you are lucky."

“I recognize that we shouldn't be getting into your relationship,” Jongdae said suddenly, “but since you got on the subject, I think we should think about ours.”

"Think?" Kyungsoo asked cautiously. "Be more precise."

"Well, Baekhyun said something quite right," Jongdae shook his head. “One day I will want to have someone as my partner. What's up? How do I explain what we are… or were we? ”

"Friends," Kyungsoo didn't even blink. "We're friends."

"It's not that simple," Chanyeol sighed too close to the microphone. “I kind of feel like I have someone… you. It's not just friendship, right? I love you. If I like someone else, it won't be the same.”

There was a minute of silence that seemed to pay respect to the weight of the sentence.

"If I ever have to explain," Baekhyun unconsciously looked at the phone. “I will say that I love you. I don't want anyone to think it's just a thing, you know? I love you and you come first."

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

[January 2, 2015]

 

The sun was hitting the window so hard that water fell on the marble and it dried in a matter of minutes. Chanyeol refused to leave the air-conditioned room, but who could blame him? The thermal sensation was almost 50 °C and Baekhyun did not understand why, but it seemed much worse outside; the sun, the hot weather, the people wearing short clothes and sandals... it was an endless summer. At the same time that he felt impelled to see the world outside, his body was punished by the hangover and the heat asked for another day in bed.

Jongdae walked wearing underwear and drinking juice from a box. Baekhyun almost slapped himself.

"Am I the only one bothered?" Baekhyun grunted. "We didn't travel all over the world to stay at the hotel all the time."

"Good luck trying to get Chanyeol out of bed," Jongdae laughed, stretching calmly.

"Where's Kyungsoo," Baekhyun was one minute away from giving up. "Where did he go?"

"He left, he went to some store here," Jongdae pointed to nothing in particular. "He didn't explain, of course."

"Don't let him go out alone," Baekhyun grunted. "It's dangerous!"

Jongdae just stared at him for a few seconds. Baekhyun thought about going out and looking for Kyungsoo, but Kyungsoo appeared a few minutes later, wearing a cap and atypical flip-flops, carrying two bags and a light stand.

"Where were you?" Baekhyun asked, nervous. "Of all the people who could break the rule of not going out alone, you were the one who did it!"

"I went to the store here in front of the hotel," he said, placing the bags carefully on the table. “I didn't get very far. They spoke English.”

Kyungsoo was the most fluent in English of them all, but that was not enough reason for him to take any chances - at least for Baekhyun. He took some equipment out of the bags carefully, one by one. Jongdae came back to help.

"What is it?" Baekhyun asked, still upset.

"I bought what I needed to take the photos," he replied, handing some signs to Jongdae. “It is not the same as my original equipment, but with a little creativity it will do.”

"We won't be able to get out of here today," Jongdae warned him. "Chanyeol has already ordered food and warned that he will not get out of bed."

Chanyeol hasn't left the room since they returned from New Year's Eve in Copacabana, blaming the hangover and the heat. Kyungsoo spent New Year's Eve wanting to use his camera. It had been a photography prize recently won by him who had paid for half the trip - they didn't have the money to travel that far. Jongdae cheered him up on the way to the hotel, but it was only a matter of time before he decided to photograph; there was no way to stop a workaholic.

"He doesn't need to get out of bed," Kyungsoo, crouching over the purchases, looked up and faced them. "I'm going to take the pictures right here."

Baekhyun and Jongdae looked at each other.

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

[April 17, 2014]

 

Baekhyun loved that karaoke. It was one of the coolest places he had ever been, even though it was just cheap karaoke. It had good food, few people and the songs he liked to sing the most. Perhaps the neon decor was the best part; after he stared for a while, the lights remained in his eyes, added to the alcohol and gave the impression that he was in a dream. He always felt euphoric during his trips. He leaned back on the couch he shared with Jongdae and intertwined their legs. Jongdae, who was humming the song Kyungsoo was singing, faced him.

"What is it," Jongdae smiled. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Baekhyun returned the smile. "Amazing."

"Amazing as well," Jongdae carefully pulled Baekhyun's hair back. "Or 'amazing - I'm going to be sick in the bathroom all night’?"

"A little bit of both," Baekhyun laughed, realized he was sweating. "I will stop drinking, I swear."

"If you get too drunk, we will reject you," Jongdae warned, pointing a finger. "It's all your fault."

Baekhyun didn't care. He was happy. It was a feeling of completion, of not caring about anything else in the world besides his own happiness. He stuck his fingers in the pocket of Jongdae's button-down shirt. It was black, made of soft fabric and looked good in it.

"Your hair is beautiful like this, longer," Baekhyun spoke a little louder to compete with the voices of Kyungsoo and Chanyeol in harmony. "You shouldn't cut it."

"Long hair takes more work, I'm lazy," he laughed to himself. "In fact, it is already long because of my laziness to go to the barber."

"I'll cut it," Baekhyun said.

"No, thanks," Jongdae said, looking ahead. The lights hit his face, outlining the features of his thin, sharp cheekbones.

"You are beautiful," Baekhyun whispered, knowing that no one would listen. He looked ahead, too, to the stage, and sighed alone seeing Kyungsoo singing and Chanyeol playing guitar - they were completely different. Chanyeol was immediately serious, focused, different from his usual cheerful and careless way, talking too loudly, stumbling, throwing himself to the floor in laughter. Kyungsoo opened up; it was frightening and fascinating how singing showed his true face, so difficult to notice within its layers of protection and shyness.

Baekhyun was a passionate idiot, completely in love. He knew exactly the design that formed the moles of Kyungsoo on his back, the tone of voice that Jongdae had when he was on the edge of irritation and how Chanyeol's knees swelled when he was in pain. It was such a great feeling inside him that it made him want to scream, tell everyone, scoff, let go completely of fear and silence. He imagined the face of his parents, quietly married, of his brother, already engaged. He imagined his girlfriend reacting, his co-workers. No, it would be funny for a short time. Not forever. Do not give that which is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before the pigs. They would not understand the preciousness of what he owned.

The music ended and the people around them clapped, standing. It was always like that; someone casually asked if they were professional musicians or something. Baekhyun was the only one who worked with the voice and yet, it was just a detail. Jongdae sang all the time, but he liked the academic life better, studying and being calm, without sweating. Kyungsoo only sang abroad - the first time Baekhyun heard him sing, they were in separate rooms and he believed for the four minutes of the song that the radio was on. 'It's me', Kyungsoo confessed, the tip of his ears as red as apples. They were in Dubai and Baekhyun knew he would never forget that hotel room.

"Let's go home," Jongdae warned. "Stop drinking."

"Okay," Baekhyun didn't complain this time. He never wanted to go home early and usually, Chanyeol supported, dragged the other two, reluctant and sleepy, with them. But now he was happy, content, quietly euphoric.

"I'm tired," Chanyeol announced, shaking off the coat he had been wearing religiously since they met, walking around the table. Kyungsoo was hiding behind him. “But it was cool, even with another guitar, this one needs to be well-tuned…”

"I'll pay and you take Baekhyun out," Jongdae stood up and touched Chanyeol's arm. He was always touching someone; it was a little sticky, in a good way. "Call a taxi."

"I already paid," Chanyeol made a gesture of disinterest. “Kyungsoo! Call a taxi outside. Do I have to carry this paunchy man on my back? ”

"I'm not chubby," Baekhyun pouted in protest. "I'm working out."

"You only eat pizza," Chanyeol laughed, shoving his index finger into Baekhyun's belly. "There is no point in working out like that."

"Not fair, I'm trying to get some pounds and you do it so effortlessly," Jongdae tapped his own belly. "Ah, I'm sleepy."

"Me too," Chanyeol yawned. "But I thought... well... are we going to sleep?"

"Baekhyun is drunk, you're tired and I am sleepy," Jongdae counted on his fingers. "Kyungsoo never really matters, let's be honest."

"A little rude to say that when I do most of the heavy lifting," Kyungsoo's voice was noticed before his modest figure came out of Chanyeol's shadow. "There's a taxi at the door, let's go."

Baekhyun admired the lights as he left, hanging upside down from Chanyeol's back. So good, so good that it didn't even feel real.

 

 

.

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

[April 20, 2014]

 

Baekhyun opened his eyes. The sun was coming in through the window - Jongdae always complained about it in the group. His room was very bright and he woke up with a headache. Baekhyun hadn't drunk the night before, he was just tired. He didn't want to wake up. It was the last day, the suitcases were at the door, the clock on the wall didn't care about their short time together. Baekhyun looked to the side, Jongdae's bare back and Chanyeol's hand on it, fingers spreading, wanting to swallow everything. On the other side, Kyungsoo was wrapped in the sheet up to his neck, his head resting on Baekhyun's shoulder.

Baekhyun closed his eyes and tried to keep the smell, the taste, the feeling of having them. Now they had more rules. No marks. No exaggeration. Leaving earlier, less time, more distrust.

The alarm went off a few minutes later. Chanyeol was the first to rise; Jongdae rolled over beside him, the sheet wrinkled between his legs, unused. It looked like a painting.

"What time is it?" Kyungsoo asked, moving too. The contact with his hot skin was better than the blanket and Baekhyun blasphemed against any God in control of their time.

"Hey," Baekhyun whispered, turning his face to better see the mole he had on his lips.

Kyungsoo opened his eyes slowly.

"Good morning," he whispered back and kissed Baekhyun's face.

"Here," Baekhyun pointed angrily at his lips. Kyungsoo smiled and gave a peck to calm him down.

"You two, don't even start," Chanyeol complained, jumping out of bed. "Two hours to get to the airport and everyone's dirty—"

Baekhyun ignored whatever he was saying to admire the long line of his back as he walked.

"He's a dumb drunk man," he sighed. "But those muscles are worth it."

Jongdae yawned, stretched, and shouted, as he always did when he woke up. Baekhyun's heart ached at the thought that he wouldn't see this scene for a whole year. That was a good way to think about the way his chest hurt.

"It never hurts less," he said loudly. Jongdae looked at him and smiled.

"It's worse for me," Jongdae explained. "I sleep in this bed every day."

 

.

 

 

 

[February 3, 2016]

 

Baekhyun stretched out beside the piano, feeling the habitual fatigue after exercising. The house was a mess. He brought some boxes himself, but removing the contents one by one and rearranging would be too much for one night. Loud music cut the silence from his laziness and he laughed - that was a warning. Taeyeon danced out of the hall and pointed at him dramatically.

"It's two in the morning," he almost begged. "Let me sleep."

"No," she spun around like a top and the plaid shirt, which was much bigger than herself, swayed in the wind. The windows were open and the neighbors must have been loving that triumphant arrival with loud music at dawn.

"We have time tomorrow," he grimaced.

"Yes," she agreed. "And we can spend it watching movies and eating pizza or packing the boxes."

"I prefer to rest," Baekhyun threw himself down dramatically. "Little by little ... one thing at a time ..."

Taeyeon walked over to him and started kicking him lightly, playfully.

"Lazy Taurus," she laughed.

"Dreamy Pisces," he complained, protecting his face. "Let me sleep…"

"Okay," she said slowly, joining him on the floor. "If you're the first to wake up, you have to make breakfast."

"In your dreams... I never wake up first..." he laughed, his hands reaching for hers. "You are a sleepwalker, can't you cook sleeping too?"

"It would be too useful," she yawned, interlacing their fingers. "Good night."

Baekhyun looked at the ceiling, chest aching. He always wanted that. He always wanted to have his home, his space, his special person, his refuge. Act like an adult, but still have a young spirit. He wanted all the things in the world and he was just getting started.

"Taeyeon," he whispered. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Yes," she said with her eyes closed.

"Is there anything ... that you would never forgive me for doing?" Baekhyun held his breath. "In addition to the horrible things like killing you and selling your organs in the black market."

She opened her eyes slowly. So small, but so scary.

"As well as...?"

"Like, abandoning you at the aisle, talking shit about your mother, traveling on your birthday," he counted on his fingers. "Stuff like that."

"You can't speak ill of my mother," she laughed. "She's an angel."

"I agree."

Taeyeon released his hand and looked up; he knew what she was thinking and these things couldn't be rushed. She dangled her legs for a while, then looked at him, calm and sleepy.

"If you stay with me without loving me," she announced as a commandment. "I know you love me today, but ... if one day ..."

Baekhyun shook his head slowly.

"Okay," he said quietly. "I promise I won't do that."

"It was just that?"

"Well, yes," he scratched his nose, losing the battle with sleep. "I'll sleep peacefully knowing that you won't leave me when I bring seventeen dogs home."

"I don't see a rational reason to break up because of such a detail," she yawned, turning to settle on the hard floor. "Good night."

He looked at the ceiling and thought about what they were doing. Chanyeol would be sleeping on the other side of the world, tired of the many chores. Jongdae could be sleeping or watching a movie alone, drinking wine. Kyungsoo would still be working, light on, glasses running down his nose.

Baekhyun was grateful for loving so many people.

 

 

 

 

.

 

.

 

 

 

[July 7, 2016]

 

Baekhyun woke up to the clicking sounds. Sometimes Kyungsoo liked to photograph while they slept. It was difficult to push Chanyeol's heavy body aside and finally get out, but Baekhyun felt better and less warm. He peeled off the wet covers on both legs and walked casually into the room. He liked how small the hotel was, with little furniture, quiet and cozy. It was a contrast to his working days, in large theaters, loud, coordinated, incessant noise. The light outside came in through the window and the shadow of Jongdae's body against the wall looked huge, like the way he was inside. He was casually drinking coffee, elbows propped on the window, looking outside. Baekhyun went on tiptoe and kissed him on the neck, unprotected by the distraction. As Jongdae was shirtless, his old underwear barely covering what he was supposed to, Baekhyun saw his soft pubic hair - and that easy, genuine sound woke him up when he was distracted by horniness. 

Jongdae turned to him and pulled him by the waist. The kiss tasted like unsweetened coffee.

"What is it," Baekhyun whispered against his mouth. "Insomnia?"

"No," Jongdae leaned his head to the side. "I'm taking care so he doesn't die."

In the middle of the quietest street that Baekhyun had ever walked on, calmly on top of a tree, Kyungsoo was holding his camera as if it were the most casual thing in the world; in pajamas, sitting on a tree - in a small town, in another country, in the middle of the night.

"Ah, no," Baekhyun sighed. He didn't know how to deal with Kyungsoo's carefree side. He was used to the most anxious and youngest member of the group always taking care of the safety of others, but for a good photo, he often forgot to take care of himself.

"He almost gave me a heart attack," Jongdae laughed. "You shouldn't get out of bed, Chanyeol hates being alone."

"Stop worrying about everyone and go rest," Baekhyun said, listening to the clicks. "Getting you to sleep is almost as difficult as getting him to stop working."

Jongdae stroked Baekhyun's back slowly, smiling lazily.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "Remember the Rio photos?"

Baekhyun closed his eyes; he remembers their legs intertwined, his hair being pulled at the perfect limit between pain and arousal. He remembers the taste of sweat, the never-ending heat, the sheets that he had to almost tear off. He remembers Kyungsoo, naked, holding a camera, in the middle of the room, almost like a painting against the beige wall, while Chanyeol was full, front and end, the way he liked it. Baekhyun remembers the flashes on his eyes, the endless night, days at the hotel ...

"Yes," Baekhyun said and felt a strange tightness in his chest.

 

 

 

[July 12, 2016]

 

Taeyeon ran up the stairs and stopped to take a break, sitting on the steps. She was trying to pretend that she was exercising, pretending that she could get through a routine, now that she didn't wake up with Baekhyun breaking a glass in the kitchen or making another unnecessary loud noise. She took a deep breath, one, two, three, four, five and drank from the bottle of water she carried everywhere. She stretched her legs and tried to remember how many things she had to do on the day, the long hours and the tight deadlines.

Someone in high heels opened the door. Yuri, hair tied and a button-down shirt, holding that cell phone like a holy book.

"I was looking for you," she frowned.

"Exercise," Taeyeon pointed to the bottle. She had to warm up her voice before recording, she had to feel comfortable; her Adidas sneakers were ripped, but she never took the elevator.

"There's someone on the phone wanting to talk to you," Yuri spoke softly as if someone other than Taeyeon was on the stairs. "Her name is Seungwan."

"I don't know anyone with that name," Taeyeon wiped her hands on her shirt and stood up. "Who is she?"

"International call and she seems to be crying," Yuri said, concerned. "She introduced herself as Chanyeol's girlfriend."

Taeyeon's heart stopped for a second - what if something had happened? They were almost without signal, far away—

"Nothing happened," Yuri said, reading the emotions on her friend's face. "She said it's about some photos."

"Photos?" Taeyeon repeated, confused. "What photos?"

"I don't know," Yuri was impatient. "Answer the call and find out, otherwise I'll hang up."

Taeyeon smiled, relief running through her veins.

"I'm going to answer it now," she said, jumping up the last few steps. "At least it's not bad news."

 

 

.

 

Chapter Text

[29 July 2016]

The summer was insufferable, the sun too strong. Jongdae raised his hands and covered his eyes, a weak shield against the burning star illuminating his tiny living room. He still lived in the same place that he rented during the undergraduate days, which sometimes bothered him. But it was comfortable and it was near the university and the school where he taught classes sometimes, so he could eat out with Minseok when he had time.

His phone was on the table, suspiciously quiet. Jongdae held the coffee cup and, tired of checking the group chat over and over again, and left his apartment. The stairs were dirty and the front door was creaking, but he was alone and that was nice, somehow. The post-trip was a nostalgic and liberating moment: he was already missing the boys and somehow happy with the memories.

“Good morning,” someone shouted. It was the lady whose grandkid Jongdae taught Korean.

He waved, smiling. “Good morning.”

Jongdae sat by the door, the overgrowth grass rubbing his socks and sipped his coffee. His lips were dry against the old mug and he tasted Japan again.

Two days since they left and no message yet; he sighed. They were silent for a while, of course. Unpacking, spending time with partners, home-related chores. Still, two days was a lot.

The round tiny car stopped by the door and Jongdae gasped. His heart welcomed the sight of Minseok. He stood up and smiled.

“Ah, you’re here.”

“Sorry for the delay,” Minseok said, still on his oversized uni shirt. No one would guess that he was a professor, not a student. “I had to fix my car yesterday.”

“No problem,” Jongdae hugged him, smiling brightly. “Can you stay for a while?”

“Yes,” Minseok hugged him back. “I can spend a few hours here today, my class start in the evening.”

Jongdae brought him home, content. He told Minseok the fun anecdotes and the interesting events. It was probably the calmest travel experience they had so far. They went fishing, drinking late at night, singing in karaokes. Chanyeol was studying the language, Jongdae was reading a few books and Kyungsoo, as always, was working. Baekhyun stormed out for walks alone, despite his own warnings.

“Did you eat well?” Minseok asked, holding the mug for Jongdae.

“Yes, we had a nice kitchen and Kyungsoo and Chanyeol took turns to cook for us,” Jongdae said and ran to prepare him coffee too. “It was funny. I even swan in the river.”

“Oh,” Minseok was impressed.

They sat in Jongdae’s couch that fit both of them, even if it was small. In that calm morning, they shared a little about their past weeks. Jongdae was so used to having Minseok around that he lost track of the time. They had a meal and talked for hours.

“I must go,” Minseok announced, checking his watch. “It’s late.”

“You can sleep here tonight, if you want to,” Jongdae said casually. “After you finish your classes.”

Minseok raised one eyebrow in a silent question. Jongdae didn’t answer, of course, and waited until he was alone again to check his phone.

That moment was unforgettable. He would always remember the feeling of the empty, cold mug in one hand and the phone in the other.

 

dks has left the chat

 

No messages after that. No Chanyeol complaining about things. No Baekhyun sending funny videos. No one seemed to react.

“Something is happening,” Jongdae said to himself, yet he couldn’t figure out what. Kyungsoo wouldn’t simply leave the chat without warning about the reason why first. Chanyeol was never silent after traveling and he would throw a tantrum in case anyone left. Baekhyun didn’t call Jongdae and that was really alarming, considering that they were used to call each other daily.

Jongdae waited.

 

 

 

Three in the morning.

He jumped off the bed when he heard the ring tone – he wasn’t asleep, of course. Minseok was sleeping next to him but Jongdae was too worried. It reminded him of his first days in that new country, scared of going pretty much anywhere, imagining the worst scenarios. He grabbed the phone and walks out of the room to answer the call.

It was Chanyeol.

“Hey, sorry, it’s late, right?”

“Yes,” Jongdae stared at the open window. “What is it?”

There was a long pause.

“Sorry for not saying anything for the last days,” he said quietly. “It’s been crazy. Wendy broke up with me and I had to find a new place to stay. I didn’t want to startle you.”

Jongdae sat on the couch.

“Why would that startle me?”

Chanyeol’s sigh was loud enough to be heard.

“Do you remember the pictures Kyungsoo took when we were in Rio de Janeiro?” He asked. “I have those. Kyungsoo’s boyfriend is a bit nosy and well… suspicious, so he asked me to keep them.”

Jongdae didn’t say anything – he started to feel cold. The sky was grey outside but there was no sign of rain.

“I… She never touches my things but someone called me for a gig in the US and she was searching for my papers,” he said calmly. “She found the pictures and… well, you know.”

“No, I don’t,” Jongdae said, gulping. “I don’t know anything, Chanyeol.”

“She called Taeyeon, I guess,” Chanyeol kept talking like he was describing a movie, not his own life. “She was crying and throwing things at me, so it was hard to understand. I guess at this point Baekhyun must have been kicked out too. They were waiting for us to return. Did they call your boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend in the strict sense... and he wouldn’t care,” Jongdae wanted to laugh. Minseok wasn’t interested in anything like a monogamic relationship. “Are you okay?”

It felt too surreal, Jongdae thought. He didn’t know how to react.

“Yeah, I mean, I cried a little, but she’s right, so…” Chanyeol whispered. “I’m staying with a friend. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’m positive. Did Baekhyun call you?”

“No,” Jongdae said and he finally felt the punch. “Oh, god, he didn’t. It must be serious.”

“Don’t call him,” Chanyeol said quickly. “It’ll make things worse; we don’t know what’s going on, after all. Based on the scene that I’ve got here… well, he could be facing the worst things. Give him time.”

“Kyungsoo has left the chat,” Jongdae realized suddenly and he stood up by reflex. “Do you think that…?”

“Look, we all hope not,” Chanyeol said. “But yeah, probably. I mean, they all know each other since last year.”

Jongdae felt like his apartment was twice the size; maybe he was shrinking. He finally understood what that meant. Six years later, six long years. He breathed slowly and said:

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The phone was heavier on his hand and he felt bad for not listening to Chanyeol’s problems and pain but he was about to suffocate. Despite his fast heartbeat, he closed the window and went back to bed, forcing himself to sleep, his skin cold and sweaty next to Minseok's soft and warm one.

They’ve all met officially a year before. For the first time in five years, every single one of them brought a partner to a party. It was Jongdae’s twenty-fourth birthday and he found time and money to go back home, so his parents decided to throw a party. Jongdae felt like an adult for the first time, coming home with his boyfriend, his real-job money and finally graduated. It was a long journey until he was comfortable with that; he grew up with an over-achiever older brother and he preferred to help his family and adapt to their needs than invest in himself.

His mother created something between a kid’s part and a family reunion for him. The cake had his name on him and the house had food for days, but there were no fun things to do besides talking and eating. Minseok was well adjusted, despite being shy around his family, smiling a lot, trying to help. They didn’t call themselves boyfriends – they almost never called themselves like that – but it was clear that they were together.

Jongdae could remember each detail.

 

.

 

[22 September 2015]

 

“I think that someone is at the door,” his mother said, cleaning the table for the tenth time. Minseok, instead of stopping her, was just cleaning too. Jongdae was torn between scolding them or welcoming the guests.

“Your friend,” Minseok mouthed, keeping the dirty napkins on an empty cup. “Isn’t it?”

Jongdae turned back, startled. Chanyeol was just under the balloons, looking up and smiling. His hair was now light brown and he was well dressed, suit jacket and shiny shoes. Jongdae ran to give him a hug and only noticed that he was holding someone’s hand when they all bumped into each other.

“Ah,” Jongdae giggled. “I’m sorry.”

A short, blonde girl popped up from Chanyeol’s behind. She was wearing a black dress and she bowed quickly.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said.

“Hey, I brought beer,” Chanyeol pointed. “And Wendy.”

“Beer isn’t welcomed,” Jongdae pointed to his parents. “But I appreciate your girlfriend being here, at this point we were almost believing that she was one of your plushies.”

“She looks like a plushie,” Chanyeol said, smiling.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, bowing again. “Chanyeol always says nice things about you.”

“Ah, she’s cute,” Jongdae said. “Nice to meet you! He doesn’t say enough good things about you!”

“Shut up,” Chanyeol laughed; he looked older and softer. “Is there cake?”

Minseok introduced himself to them since Jongdae was constantly requested to talk to people. They were chatting in the corner and once in a while, Jongdae checked on them. Chanyeol changed the playlist with the help of Jongdae’s father and some low, cool song started to play. Baekhyun arrived late, as always, but he blamed Taeyeon.

“He’s lying,” she said, she had two cute braids and new bangs that framed her face perfectly. “He’s got more make up than me. He’s the one being late because he needs the perfect outfit.”

Minseok spat his soda on himself from laughing and Chanyeol couldn’t miss the opportunity to mock his friend, so Baekhyun spent ten minutes trying to explain himself and kept failing.

“Happy birthday, Jongdae,” he said pointedly when he realized that he couldn’t win that fight. “We brought a gift.”

“Surprise,” Taeyeon showed him a box perfectly wrapped like a Christmas present. Jongdae thanked them and opened it. It was a coffee machine.

“Oh, happy birthday to me,” Minseok said excitedly. Baekhyun stared at him and Jongdae realized that they haven’t been introduced. In fact, Jongdae only talked about Minseok once, mostly as a more-than-friends thing. Baekhyun was analyzing him, up and down, and Jongdae knew why. Poor Minseok, with his young face and colorful look, not realizing how he was being judged after a line of terrible, unsuccessful relationships that hurt Jongdae deeply. Even Chanyeol kept staring at him when Chanyeol himself was pretty chill around their partners in general.

“You must be Minseok,” Baekhyun said curiously. “You’re different than I thought.”

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae warned.

“What? It’s a compliment, believe me,” he said defensively. “You have a bad taste in men.”

Chanyeol snorted because he got the joke, but the girls were just confused. Well, good for them.

“Don’t be rude,” Taeyeon whispered angrily. She always had a soft spot for Jongdae, he knew.

“Well, always happy to exceed the expectations,” Minseok said easily; despite being shy, he was snarky. “Thanks for the coffee machine, by the way.”

“Are you guys living together?” Chanyeol asked.

“No, but he always visits me for coffee talk,” Jongdae said. “Thank you, really. I’m truly grateful.”

Against all odds, they started to talk and it wasn’t awkward anymore. Jongdae couldn’t keep up with them, busy with being the birthday boy, so he only had time to join them when most people had left.

Kyungsoo only arrived late at night. Jongdae wasn’t expecting him to come at all; Chanyeol and his girlfriend being there was a happy coincidence since they lived abroad. When Jongdae opened the door, he was even surprised – Kyungsoo wasn’t alone.

“Hello,” he said shyly. He was using a huge dark coat and his ‘serious’ glasses, his body shrinking as always. “I’m sorry I’m late. I wished I could have talked to Auntie.”

They weren’t staring at him, but at the tall man behind him.

“She would love that,” Jongdae gulped, still waiting for Kyungsoo to talk about the elephant in the room. “Please, get in. Make yourself comfortable.”

“He’s famous,” Wendy whispered to Chanyeol, but the room was too quiet for him not to listen. They both walked in and maybe Minseok realized that it was awkward because he took one for the team.

“Is that Kyungsoo, right? You guys are just like Jongdae describes, I swear.”

“Oh,” Kyungsoo bowed. “Nice to meet you…”

The man behind Kyungsoo took off the cap that he was wearing and Taeyeon gasped.

“Oh, Jongin, is that you?” She walked to him, smiling.

“Noona,” the man replied, hugging her. He was tall, had nice physique and was using a very feminine bag. She tapped his shoulders many times, excited.

“It’s been years since I saw you,” she said. “God, you’re so tall now.”

“Is there still cake left?” Kyungsoo asked Jongdae, ignoring them completely.

“Yeah, I can get you a slice,” Jongdae said, distracted. “And who’s that… with you?”

“Ah, this is Jongin,” Kyungsoo said simply. “He drove me here.”

“Is he your driver?” Baekhyun asked immediately, shaking his beer, and Chanyeol snorted again. Kyungsoo didn’t like it, of course, shooting him a killing glare. Jongdae sighed.

“Do you want cake too?” He asked the newcomer. “It’s strawberry and chocolate.”

“Yes, thank you,” Jongin smiled and Jongdae recognized his face from some outdoor. He left the room and stared at them from far while cutting the cake. The girls seemed to be relaxed, Minseok seemed to be having fun and the rest was tense. Jongdae wasn’t expecting Kyungsoo to bring anyone, ever. Judging by the way Chanyeol and Baekhyun reacted, no one was actually ready for that.

Yet, it was a peaceful reunion. They only left when the sun was rising. Baekhyun was slightly drunk, napping on the couch, Chanyeol and Taeyeon were singing old songs, Wendy was talking to Jongin and Kyungsoo was the one to kick them out – Jongdae wouldn’t.

Minseok was already sleeping when they left. Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh when he saw Minseok sleeping in his childhood bed, pillows between his legs, face touching the rock band posters glued to the wall.

“Hey,” Jongdae nudged him. “Go take a shower. You used to be the cleanest one.”

Minseok opened one eye and shrugged. They skipped sleep and started to talk.

“What do you think about them?” Jongdae asked, sitting on the bed.

“They’re… not like you,” Minseok said, spinning Jongdae’s favorite old pen.

“How?”

“They’re… glamorous,” he finally explained. “They look like… celebrities.”

Jongdae giggled.

“Yeah, I know it,” he gulped. “But did you like them?”

“They seem fine,” Minseok grinned. “I couldn’t stop thinking you know… about you four…”

He winked and Jongdae jumped to cover his mouth.

“You promised me you would keep a secret,” Jongdae was truly worried yet he laughed. “Minseok, this is serious. No one can know that you know.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he held Jongdae’s hand gently. “I behaved well, didn’t I?”

Jongdae agreed in silence, moving back to his spot.

“Don’t think about that,” he complained. “It’s embarrassing, I mean. For me.”

“Oh, but it was highly entertaining,” Minseok smiled. He had cat eyes and a cat personality; sometimes he was soft and inoffensive and sometimes he was chaotic. Jongdae got used to that, after years of being friends.

“I’m glad that you had fun,” Jongdae said.

“The shady one was the one who brought the guy, right?” Minseok said. “You guys looked surprised.”

“The Kyungsoo you met is his second identity, he becomes a superhero when he takes off his glasses, that’s why he’s so secretive,” Jongdae mocked. “Yeah, he didn’t tell us about his dating life but well, that’s how he lives his life. He’s quiet.”

“Quiet,” Minseok nodded. “And did they like me?”

“I don’t know,” Jongdae shrugged. “Chanyeol never dislikes someone without a good reason, we’ll never know about Kyungsoo’s feelings and Baekhyun approved you, apparently.”

“Will it be easier if I promise that I won’t break your heart?” Minseok said. “I can do it.”

“I don’t need to be protected,” Jongdae said. “I’m the toughest one.”

They had breakfast with Jongdae’s family and after they were finally ready to sleep, Jongdae sat on his old bed to think before falling asleep.

Glamorous, Minseok said. He wasn’t lying, they looked glamorous now, barely resembling the skinny adolescents with baby fat and pimples. Jongdae rubbed his slippers on the floor, closing his eyes. So many things had changed and yet he felt unworthy – the busy one, the ugly one, the poor one. No matter how long they’d been together, Jongdae had always that feeling of ‘me?’ in the back of his throat. At some point, maybe when he finally left the country, he was confident, but life hit him hard so many times that he didn’t feel safe anymore like an impending disaster was teasing him with happiness.

He shook his head. “I’m okay,” he said. “I’m twenty-four.”

He had a job, a boyfriend, a place, a nice family and friends. Sure, he lived a simple life. At this point, Baekhyun was almost a celebrity and he looked prettier and a bit different every year, though they didn’t discuss what exactly he was doing to achieve that – especially considering the fact that Jongdae was certain that Taeyeon went through a few surgical procedures. Chanyeol was carefree because he wasn’t interested in getting rich or famous, but enjoying life the fullest, visiting different places, learning new things and having fun. He simply couldn’t stay still and well, he was talented, young, handsome in the most convenient way and even charming. No one knew much about Kyungsoo’s daily life, but he had achieved a whole new level professionally. He seemed happy while overworking. And then, unexpectedly, he was dating someone too. So, sometimes Jongdae felt truly… mediocre among them, even though he didn’t want to trade their positions. In the end, Jongdae liked that what they had was the most extraordinary thing in his quiet and boring life.

 

 

 

 

[23 July 2011]

 

The first thing that Jongdae noticed when they were climbing their way out of the stones was that Baekhyun was walking oddly. Kyungsoo was following the GPS machine that Chanyeol bought for the trip only and because of that, he was too focused. Chanyeol was taking pictures with his polaroid and he seemed to be completely immersed in that. Jongdae held Baekhyun’s shirt gently.

“Are you in pain?”

Baekhyun stared at him; his dyed pink hair was glued to his forehead due to the humidity.

“My hip,” he said casually. “It’s nothing serious, I guess I’m just sore.”

Jongdae was sure that they hadn’t heard - otherwise, at least Chanyeol was going to mock Baekhyun. Jongdae walked over and leaned forward.

“Get here,” he tapped his own back. “Piggyback.”

Baekhyun giggled, happy. If Jongdae has suggested any other thing, he probably wouldn’t accept. Chanyeol turned back when he realized that they were far behind.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

Jongdae made sure that Baekhyun’s arms were comfortable around his neck and then held his legs tighter. There was a warm feeling around him, inside him. It was nice. The storming sea, the rocks, the wind against his face and having someone so close. He stared at Chanyeol’s confused face and smiled.

“That’s cool,” Chanyeol concluded. “Kyungsoo, do you want a piggyback too?”

Kyungsoo, in black and white like a lighthouse, climbed a large rock and stared at something far away.

“No,” he said dryly. “We should hurry. The sun is setting.”

He was against the sunlight, shinning quietly. It looked like a painting, the way he held the tiny machine with his eyes narrowed, always seeing things a bit deeper than the rest of them.

“Fine,” Chanyeol clapped. “Come on, guys.”

Baekhyun rubbed his nose on Jongdae’s shoulder.

“Thank you.”

 

 

 

 

 

[13 October 2013]

 

Baekhyun’s singing was heard through the walls, loud and clear, as he was warming his voice. Jongdae brought a few boxes down with Chanyeol’s help. Since Chanyeol started working out, he was trying to show off, so while Jongdae carried one box at a time, he carried three.

“I’m barely sweating,” Chanyeol declared, rubbing his dirty hand down his white t-shirt.

“Good for you,” Jongdae stopped to breathe. “Don’t ruin your clothes, please. We won’t have time to change.”

The theater was too far from their places and it was the rush hour. Jongdae looked around and coughed a little. The curtains were dusty and unused; the chairs need a good cleaning.

“I’ll put the boxes on the stage,” Chanyeol said, reading Jongdae’s mind.

“I’ll clean what I can,” he nodded. “How long until it starts?”

“Two hours and a half,” Chanyeol was messing with his short, red hair. Jongdae fought the impulse of holding his arm down and started looking for a duster. In his way, he found the spot where Baekhyun was sitting, just a box on the backstage.

“Why are you here?” Jongdae asked, walking carefully to him since it was darker there.

“The girls are changing in the dressing room,” he grabbed a water bottle. “Sorry for bothering you.”

He sounded sincere, maybe too tired, breathing too fast. It was the first time that his acting group was presenting a play by themselves. They thought they could make an original musical, only by joining forces and crowdfunding. It worked in the beginning, but just a week before, the money had vanished with little details, so friends and family had to step in. Baekhyun was so excited in the beginning, talking incessantly about it, then getting quieter as the time went by. Jongdae knew that if he wasn’t such a persistent person, he would have given up by now. The musical had only ten people, counting every actor and staff.

“It’s not bothering me at all,” Jongdae smiled. “It’s nice to get a taste of the show business life. Look at me, I’m a musical's staff.”

Baekhyun smiled back and even in the dark, Jongdae knew that happy-but-sad look.

“Go,” Baekhyun said. “We both have things to do.”

Jongdae followed his advice and found the duster near the backdoor. The theater wasn’t that big, so he just needed a minute to walk all the way back. He found Kyungsoo sitting on the stairs leading to the stage, maneuvering a tripod that he carried with him sometimes. He was a professional photographer now, certificate and a whole (small) studio for him. Things were always fast when it came to Kyungsoo.

Jongdae stopped next to him, but Kyungsoo was completely focused in that machine. That was the way he was every little second of the day: focused, going straight to the point.

“Hey.”

Kyungsoo looked up.

“Hey,” he smiled and, as always, lips formed a plushy red heart. “Is everything okay?”

“For now,” Jongdae squatted to take a better look at him. “Are those new glasses?”

“Yes,” he touched the silver frames before standing up, inverting their positions. “You’re free to go.”

Jongdae smiled, thinking how they all did the same thing. Giving space, letting him do what he needed – that was their way to say that they were okay that he left the country. Not by saying on his face but with small, recurring acts. When Jongdae accepted the interchange offer a year ago, they weren’t that complacent.

The musical was okay. Low attendance, that was for sure, but they made the most of such a critical situation. Jongdae enjoyed every second, even Chanyeol’s impressed gasps next to his ear. To celebrate the play, they took Baekhyun out for dinner: pizza. Chanyeol drove them to the nearest place still open and Baekhyun was so exhausted that he was almost sleeping on Kyungsoo’s shoulder, sprayed on the backseat. There was just one table and they took it, covering the whole surface with plates and cups.

“I really, really loved the music effects,” Chanyeol said, still munching. “The creativity… another level, really.”

“Creativity is a nice way to say we had to improvise,” Baekhyun nodded. He wasn’t just tired, he was disappointed too.

“You sang and acted well,” Jongdae said, caressing his shoulder, even if he knew that Baekhyun didn’t like it when Jongdae complimented his singing. You could sing better, Baekhyun always retorted, somehow hurt due to Jongdae’s indifference to music.

“It was great,” Chanyeol said, a bit angry. “Stop being so mean to yourself. One day you’ll get a full audience and people complaining at the door because they didn’t get in.”

Baekhyun tried to smile. Kyungsoo, next to him, just held his hand on the table, a silent reassuring. Because they were too close, Baekhyun leaned to kiss him, a simple reflex; Kyungsoo leaned back, noticing it. At this point, it wasn’t awkward anymore.

“I’m dating,” Chanyeol said simply.

They stared at him in silence. He took off his phone and showed them a picture of four girls. Kyungsoo held the phone closer and then gave it to Baekhyun.

“Seungwan, everyone calls her Wendy,” he explained. “She lives in Canada and she’s just visiting her friends. We met at a rock concert last month, she’s the best.”

“Why are you dating someone that’s just visiting?” Kyungsoo seemed curious.

“Which one of them?” Baekhyun asked, fixing his posture. “They’re all really hot.”

Jongdae smiled awkwardly.

“She’s the cutest one,” Chanyeol said proudly, a bit red. “She’s great at every single thing. She’s like a prodigious person, I don’t know. And she’s the sweetest too, that’s why I’m dating her.”

Baekhyun pointed to a girl with long black hair.

“This one? She’s looks unreal, man,” he sounded truly impressed.

“No,” Chanyeol said. “That’s Juhyun. She’s the one wearing a long black dress.”

Baekhyun turned the phone back to inspect and Kyungsoo and Jongdae leaned closer to take a look.

“Listen, all of them are pretty and hot,” Baekhyun sighed. “But if it was a competition, your girl would be in the last place, I mean…”

Chanyeol gaped. Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh; it was cute how fast he reacted to everything, how easily it was to read his emotions.

“Shut up,” he took his phone back, angry. “She’s the prettiest in the whole world.”

“She’s very charming,” Jongdae agreed, still smiling. “Don’t get mad, Chanyeol. We’re sure that she’s amazing.”

“You must really like her,” Kyungsoo observed, the cup covering half of his face while he was sipping.

It was clear that Chanyeol wasn’t the dating type and maybe that was the reason why they weren’t even jealous, just surprised. But Chanyeol always had news, always had something that he was really into, so it wasn’t that unexpected. After Baekhyun’s shocking dating news, they got used to it. Jongdae looked around and thought that it was the right moment to announce that he was also dating. Though, he knew, they would react differently.

But he didn’t.

“When are you going back, Jongdae?” Kyungsoo asked, ignoring Chanyeol’s pout and bad mood.

“In a few days,” Jongdae said. “I leave on Sunday morning, my brother will take me to the airport.”

“What are you guys doing tomorrow?” Baekhyun asked, stealing the last slice in front of their eyes – not that anyone would deny him that small pleasure, especially that night.

“Working,” Kyungsoo said.

“Helping Kyungsoo to work,” Chanyeol pointed. “He asked me to help with the studio, get ready for the first Park Chanyeol’s Interior Design work.”

“Did you give up on the music career already?” Jongdae mocked.

“I’ll have many careers,” Chanyeol said, his fork dangerously close to Baekhyun’s pizza. “As many as I can get.”

“Finish one thing before you start the other,” Kyungsoo punched him playfully. It didn’t take long until Baekhyun and Chanyeol started fighting for pizza, so they had to ask for another one before they left. On the way out, Baekhyun held Jongdae’s arm and smiled at him.

“Thank you,” he said. “You’re the best.”

“You’re the best,” Jongdae retorted.

“You’re not telling them?” Baekhyun asked, almost whispering.

“Not yet,” Jongdae said. “I’ll wait until it becomes truly official.”

Baekhyun shrugged.

 

 

.

 

 

[28 February 2013]

 

After a month, his apartment was completely different due to his efforts and his efforts only. The landlord seemed uninterested in fixing anything or making it look better as if the cheap rent could excuse every little problem. Jongdae didn’t know a single soul in the city and the classes had started just a couple of days before.

He sat on his almost-good couch that wasn’t that expensive and checked his phone. They gave his number to a Korean student and a few Chinese guys that knew how to speak his language. The women in the registration section was chatty and she shared that most of them dreamed of becoming trainees and that’s why they knew how to speak Korean. Jongdae laughed, thinking about how they probably looked like: rich, superficial and good looking.

Isn’t it everyone’s dream?” She laughed.   

He didn’t have that particular ambition. He told her that he knew how to sing, but he didn’t have the looks.

You just need money,” she said.

Jongdae never had much money, that was the problem. He started working as a teenager and he couldn’t even believe when he got a scholarship to study abroad. Now that he was finally doing what he always wanted to, it was exhausting.

“I’m happy,” he declared.

He had two messages.

 

kim_min (KR): hey newbie, warn me when you’re on the campus, we have a meeting.

l.a.y: hello

 

It seemed that the students got his number, the chatty lady kept her promise. Jongdae left his house to take care of the front garden, suffering in the cold weather. He swore that he would buy new flowers when spring arrived, he just had to wait a little more. He was going to keep himself busy so he didn’t have to miss his family and friends.

The chatty lady asked his age and if he had a girlfriend. Jongdae laughed nervously.

“I've never dated, I’m waiting for the right person,” he said and she was impressed. Jongdae thought about how chaotic his romantic life was; there was a polaroid taken by Chanyeol next to his bed with the four of them. Baekhyun is on Jongdae’s back, Kyungsoo is standing next to them and Chanyeol is trying to hug everyone with an arm only.

It didn’t matter how hard his life was, in the end, Jongdae would have them and at least, once in a year, he would love and be loved.

 

 

 

.

 

[15 March 2012]

 

Jongdae got the towels when he left the room. He lost track of time after a couple of days. They traveled but they didn’t get enough money to go out more than once a day, so they always waited until the sunset. He could hear the noises back in the room, yet he didn’t feel exactly horny. He was tired and overwhelmed, unused to all that sexual activity. He felt a bit embarrassed to say that he had enough, so he was focusing on helping them.

When he got back, Chanyeol had come all over the bed. Kyungsoo was still pounding into him slowly, holding his hips carefully, but Baekhyun moved away, leaving a trail of cum down Chanyeol’s chin. That was the only way he liked, when everyone went on him the same time because he was exaggerated and starving for it.

Jongdae waited until it was over to sit on the bed. Baekhyun glared at him.

“Don’t fucking leave,” he said breathily.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m tired.”

He gave a towel to Kyungsoo, who thanked him with a peck on the lips. Jongdae giggled. Baekhyun accepted one towel and started wiping Chanyeol’s face; Chanyeol was boneless and exhausted, of course.

“I’m going to change the bed sheets,” Kyungsoo said. “Go take a shower.”

It was directed to the three of them, so he and Baekhyun had to help Chanyeol to get up.

“Keep the things inside your asshole,” Baekhyun mocked. “Lock it up.”

Chanyeol showed him the tongue but then walked like a penguin before sitting on the toilet, which made them laugh so hard that Kyungsoo popped up at the door to check if they were okay.

Jongdae kept staring at the colors of the sky while Baekhyun scrubbed his back. There was a tiny window in the bathroom and that was enough for him.

“Can you hear this song?” Baekhyun asked. It sounded like Kyungsoo.

 

 

[13 May 2014]

 

All Kyungsoo had asked was: are you really okay?

Jongdae wasn’t, of course. He was positive and cheerful and he tried to convince himself and pretty much everyone else that there was nothing wrong. In fact, all the things he could share were good news. He was about to graduate, he was paying his bills, he had a few friends now and his apartment was comfortable, though once in a while he thought about moving to the campus residence. That was what he said when they were there, with him, a suggestion that he made himself since they were short on money that year. It was that happy week where nothing bad could harm Jongdae – he even skipped a few classes, obligating Minseok to get all the class information with Jongdae’s classmates. Minseok, as a good friend, didn’t ask why Jongdae was busy nor tried to visit him, avoiding the awkwardness of finding out the truth.

When the three of them left to get their plane, Jongdae smiled. When he arrived home, by himself, he cried.

And that was what he did again when Kyungsoo asked him carefully, with that kind expression of his, at the door of his small studio, holding a cup of coffee, “are you really okay?”

Coming back home gave him the feeling of comfort. Kyungsoo had won an award and he paid for Jongdae’s tickets, wanting to see everyone there to celebrate. Jongdae had to go back to his house and smile to his family, had to cross the streets he was used to walk, all back to his old life.

Kyungsoo guided him inside, made him sit, brought him a glass of water. And waited. So Jongdae cried for long minutes in peace, face against the soft fabric of the couch.

“Is that about the man that you’re dating?” Kyungsoo asked, serious.

Jongdae wiped his nose and eyes, staring at him.

“Baekhyun let it slip,” Kyungsoo explained, pushing his glasses up his nose. “He’s good at keeping secrets, but not from us.”

“Yes,” Jongdae said. “We broke up. I’m sorry, it’s just… I didn’t allow myself to cry in front of anyone… this is the first time.”

He drank water and it felt like a cleansing, like could finally let it go.

“Did he break up with you?”

Jongdae stared at the empty glass.

“No, I broke up with him.”

Kyungsoo seemed to be surprised but Jongdae understood his reaction. It was hard to picture himself as the one who took the final decision. It was his last resource to protect himself.

“Why?” Kyungsoo almost whispered.

Jongdae sighed – to answer that he had to tell everything from the start. But from them all, Kyungsoo would probably the best listener and he could understand Jongdae’s struggles, as someone who also faced similar problems. Unlike Baekhyun and Chanyeol, that came from families that had enough to support their dreams and give them what they needed, Kyungsoo started working early and had to give up on a few aspirations to succeed. And even if Kyungsoo had never stated, the other three suspected that he had no interest in dating girls.

“We met at a club meeting,” Jongdae started. “He had my number because the administration gave it to him.”

It was hard to explain why that day was life-changing. After a few months in the new university, Jongdae had tried to date – only men, the majority of women didn’t even talk to him, - and he had achieved no success. They were interested in sex and sex only, most of the time. Some didn’t even want to have a conversation and that hurt him deeply. He only had Minseok, and sometimes Baekhyun, to talk about that, about the fact that he really needed more than just physical connection.

Then he met Yixing.

It was hard to describe the feelings, but Jongdae did the best to explain why Yixing was the remedy that he needed. His kindness, his patience, and his big heart.

“He took me out for coffee,” Jongdae gulped. “And then, instead of asking me things like work, family and my life here, he just, asked me about my dreams.”

Yixing was a musician and he knew how to speak Korean and English. He once lived in Korea when he was younger, under a big entertainment management. They treated him like shit, but he learned enough to start dreaming of working in America – his biggest goal. He used to send a different song to Jongdae almost every morning.

Yixing was also conventionally attractive, despite not being the star of the campus and Jongdae knew them all. He wanted to succeed.

“He seems sweet,” Kyungsoo said.

“He was… he is…” Jongdae smiled sadly. “We’ve been together since last year. I’m really sorry for not telling you in person.”

“Why didn’t you?” Kyungsoo wasn’t judgmental, just curious.

“Because we were never… dating,” Jongdae tried not to cry again. “We couldn’t be together, you see? He dreams to be a big star. It’s not… possible for us to stay together.”

Kyungsoo’s expression got darker for a second.

“When did you decide that?” He asked, now suspicious. “Didn’t you know that from the start?”

Jongdae’s eyes were teary again.

How to explain that? It was hard to say no when he was in love. It was hard to deny affection and sweetness when he was completely all by himself in a foreign place, hard to say no to someone who treated him like a human being, who kissed him goodnight, said I love you.

“I went to his family house,” Jongdae swallowed. “It was the biggest house I’ve ever seen in my life. I met his family and I was introduced as a ‘friend from college’. That was when I realized.”

That feeling of being so small, so ridiculously unimportant. Jongdae stood there, listening to that people talk about their lives, about Yixing’s future so proudly. Jongdae was a friend and he would die being a friend – he wouldn’t belong to that place not even if he was a girl. He wasn’t simply good enough.

Kyungsoo closed his eyes; he was angry. He breathed deeply and held Jongdae’s face with both hands, kissing him briefly. Jongdae was surprised – they had a rule against anything but friendly touching except when they were traveling together and Kyungsoo used to be very strict about it.

“There’s no one in this world better than you,” Kyungsoo said. “No one is smarter or kinder, no one has your heart. That guy wasn’t good enough for you and he lost you as he should have. If he wasn’t capable of making you happier and better, then… his loss.”

Those words were engraved on Jongdae’s heart. His friends never ceased to make him happier and better, of course, he should only date people that make him feel the same.

 

 

 

[31 July 2016]

 

“Your phone is ringing,” Minseok said while trying to cut the carrots. He wasn’t a good cook nor was Jongdae, so they tried their best. Jongdae had wet hands from washing the vegetable, so he dried his hands on the kitchen cloth and grabbed his phone.

Jongdae gasped loudly.

“Who is it?” Minseok turned back, startled.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae said and ran away from the kitchen with no further explanation. When he got on his room, he answered the call.

“Hello,” he said quickly. “How are you?”

“I got ice on my left eye,” Baekhyun said playfully as nothing happened. “She punched me.”

Jongdae stared at the wall in silence.

“It’s been a couple of days and it still hurts,” he laughed. “It was a good punch. Do you think that they teach that on her Pilates class?”

Sometimes Jongdae couldn’t stand Baekhyun’s coping mechanisms.

“What happened?”

“It’s hilarious, I swear,” he started. “So, it seems like Chanyeol’s girlfriend found the Rio photos because well, Chanyeol had to keep this thing in his mess. And you know her, she’s just too sweet, do you believe that she called Taeyeon in tears because she couldn’t understand ‘art very well’?"

Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh. Yet the thought of pure, sweet Wendy, trying to figure out why there was a bunch of pictures of two dudes (Jongdae being one of them) fucking her boyfriend and thinking that she was the one who couldn’t give meaning to that… it made him feel like shit.

Maybe Baekhyun felt the same because he was serious when he talked again.

“Well, Taeyeon knew what that meant and you know she’s a demon, so she convinced Wendy to shut up and wait until we got back to raise hell,” Baekhyun sighed. “And man, she did it. When I got here, my things were back at my parent’s house. I tried to talk to her and she punched me, which, by the way, I know I deserve, but now everyone knows that something happened and I can’t fucking tell people why my girlfriend got me a black eye.”

Jongdae sighed again, tired.

“This is a nightmare,” he mumbled.

“It’s just starting, my friend, did you notice that Kyungsoo left the chat?”

“Of course, I did.”

“Because my lovely ex-girlfriend had to talk to Jongin and honestly, I’m not even sure how he didn’t even come here to kill me,” Baekhyun laughed again. “You know he’s been wanting to do that for a long time…”

Jongdae rubbed his face. Kyungsoo’s relationship was confusing even for them. He never shared about their life besides that they moved in together. His boyfriend was way too famous, incredibly popular, and despite Kyungsoo having a promising career, something wasn’t healthy about the way they lived. Jongdae met them a few times as a couple and they had to maintain distance, be discreet and reticent about their relationship. Jongdae couldn’t help but think about Yixing and the bulled that he dodged. Though Jongin was different from Yixing in many ways, being not very subtle about his jealousy. He couldn’t stand Baekhyun specifically, which was no surprise due to how touchy he was with Kyungsoo.

“He’s not going to kill you,” Jongdae said. “Did you talk to Kyungsoo?”

“He’s not answering anyone,” Baekhyun said and his voice broke. “Jongdae.”

“Yes.”

“You’re my best friend,” Baekhyun said, too serious. “You wouldn’t lie to me, right?”

“I wouldn’t,” Jongdae swore.

“Do you think that he’s leaving us?” He asked like a little kid.

“I don’t know,” Jongdae said sincerely. When it came to Kyungsoo, they were never sure. Kyungsoo often decided things in silence, surprising everyone around him.

“Did she call your boyfriend?”

“No and it would be fruitless, you know,” Jongdae said. “He wouldn’t mind.”

Baekhyun was in silence for a long moment.

“I don’t know what to do yet,” he finally said, sniffing. “I was planning to propose to her and everything, I guess I won’t… I… can deal with it, I can. It’ll take some time but I’ll get over it. But if I lose you, if I lose any of you, I’ll crumble down.”

“You won’t lose me,” Jongdae said. “I’m your best friend. You’ll never lose me.”

Baekhyun was crying loudly on the other side.

“We have to keep it down,” Jongdae advised. “It needs to remain a secret. We have to be quiet about each other in public, just pretend that it was something between you two.”

“I know,” Baekhyun sniffed again. “I’m doing my best to not draw attention. I’m not even leaving home.”

Jongdae felt bad; suddenly, the distance protected him.

“Chanyeol burned the photos,” Baekhyun said. “Kyungsoo will die when he finds out. He was so proud of—”

“I don’t think that he’ll care about that, Baekhyun. We don’t even know if he’s okay,” Jongdae cut him. “Go sleep, watch something, distract yourself. You can’t keep overthinking while we don’t know what’s going on. You need to calm down, there’s nothing you can do now.”

Jongdae wanted to be next to him, to hug him and make things a little better. With Chanyeol being away and Kyungsoo leaving no trace behind, Baekhyun was facing this all by himself.

“I hate to be scared,” Baekhyun said. “God, I hate it so much.”

“I know,” Jongdae said. “Do you want me to sing a lullaby for you?”

“Yes,” he said. “Please.”

 

 

[30 March 2014]

 

Jongdae sat on the chair after grabbing a tissue and stared at his reflection on the shiny mug. He looked tired and serious. He spent the last weeks crying and feeling sorry for himself. When he stared at himself in the mirror, he realized that he was no longer the person he used to be, the smiling, calm but energetic man that faced everything on his own.

Minseok came with another mug and Jongdae smiled.

“Thanks for coming,” Minseok said. “I needed to talk to someone and go out. God, this new semester barely started and here I am.”

“They’ll approve your request,” Jongdae smiled. “You’ll get your Ph.D., I just know. You deserve it.”

“Thank you,” Minseok said, blowing on his coffee. “Have you been eating well?”

“Not sure,” Jongdae’s smile was fading.

Minseok got serious, his sharp eyes narrowing. He wasn’t scary at all, being short and with his round and young face, but sometimes he knew how to look threatening.

“Do you need money?”

“No, no,” Jongdae said quickly, realizing how it sounded. “I have enough.”

Minseok then looked around, thinking. He had died his hair in a light brown that suited his face and made him look like he was one of the trainees-to-be in the Korean club.

“Is it about Yixing?”

Jongdae gulped, feeling like he was just stabbed. Everything about it hurt, a never-ending bleeding cut.

“Yes,” Jongdae confessed. “But it’ll be okay.”

“Really?” Minseok asked suspiciously. “Why?”

“My friends will be here soon,” Jongdae said. “And that will be past.”

There was a French song playing that sounded quiet and sad and Jongdae wished he was back home, crying in his bed. The world seemed heavier and tiring and he just wanted to rest.

“Since you started seeing this guy, it gets worse every time I see you,” Minseok said. “I don’t understand, really.”

“It’s not his fault,” Jongdae said quickly.

“That doesn’t change anything,” Minseok said. “It doesn’t matter who’s causing it, it’s happening. You look pale, skinnier and older. What’s going on? I thought this thing was exactly what you wanted.”

Jongdae looked away; he didn’t want to cry in public. Minseok was trying to help because well, since they met Minseok had been nothing but a good friend of his. Without him, Jongdae would have given up a long time ago.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” he said.

Minseok put his mug on the table and sighed, angry.

“I avoided asking you to break up with him,” Minseok said quietly. “It sounded selfish of me.”

Jongdae was confused but he didn’t want to interrupt.

“I have feelings for you,” Minseok made it look easy to say. “And right now, I’m not able to offer all this romance thing that probably got you addicted to him. But well, it doesn’t make sense to keep dating… seeing this guy. I’m trying not to be biased, you see.”

Jongdae couldn’t move or speak.

“In case if you need me,” Minseok shrugged. “I’m here for pretty much anything, except like marriage.”

Jongdae snorted, relaxing for the first time in weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[20 September 2016]

 

Jongdae was waiting for Minseok to come to pick him at the University. He waved at few people on his way, walking down the stairs that led to the main gate. He had promised himself that he wouldn’t get more books to read because he had plenty of things to do, but when he couldn’t resist a nice cover. He stopped to tie his Converse’s laces and someone stood next to him. Jongdae looked up.

“Hello,” Yixing said.

He didn’t have changed a thing, Jongdae thought. Same hairstyle, same white-shirt-and-blue-jeans from fancy brands, though they were wearing the exact same shoes.

“Hello,” Jongdae stood up and smiled, heart beating fast. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“I’m glad,” he said softly. “I’m happy that I found you. Your birthday is soon, right?”

“Yes,” Jongdae nodded. “Tomorrow.”

“Happy birthday,” he sang. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, healthy and happier,” Jongdae answered. “How about you?”

“I’m doing fine too,” Yixing touched his arm gently. He was always touchy and warm.

“How’s the music thing?” He asked casually. “I heard you moved to the States.”

“For a while,” Yixing nodded. “Now I’m officially living in Korea, mostly. I mean, I live in hotels, not… a house, at this point. It doesn’t bother me, of course.”

“I’m glad,” Jongdae was sincere.

“Are you finishing your masters?”

“Pretty much. I still got a couple of months.”

“Are you going to apply for a Ph.D.?”

Jongdae gulped, thinking about the past months. About Baekhyun’s anxious late-night calls, Chanyeol’s random and chaotic videocalls playing songs in his new and desert apartment and Kyungsoo’s deep, brutal silence.

“Not right now,” he said firmly. “I miss my family and friends. My loved ones come first, so I’ll spend some time with them before I decide anything.”

Yixing was disconcerted, of course.

“My brother got married,” Jongdae said quickly, trying to avoid any awkward energy between them. “I’ll be an uncle soon.”

“Congratulations,” Yixing smiled. “Are you going home? I can give you a ride. I was just here to get some papers signed.”

“Thanks,” Jongdae waved his hands, embarrassed. “My boyfriend is going to pick me up.”

Yixing looked defeated but he was kind to nod and say:

“I hope I see you again,” he smiled. “Soon.”

 

 

 

 

 

.

Chapter Text

[4 September 2016]

 

Chanyeol was walking on the almost-empty street, carrying his gator keyboard case. He was tired but restless after a few coffees and he took the long route to get home. It wasn’t that late when he got to the apartment complex. He took the keys out of his pocket and whistled, thinking about the rescue dog that he was considering adopting.

“Hey.” Someone was sitting on the stairs. “Man.”

Chanyeol looked up and smiled. It was Mark, probably waiting for him.

“Hey, man.” He offered his hand, smiling. Mark was holding a box, so he took Chanyeol’s hand with his left hand.

“You’re cold,” Chanyeol noticed. “Are you okay? Have you been waiting for a long time?”

“Not really,” he answered. “I mean, I haven’t been waiting for long but I’m fine. I’m great.”

“Oh, good,” Chanyeol nodded. “Wanna come in? We can have some beers.”

“Of course,” he replied.

Chanyeol did his best to make the place comfortable for his friend. He had moved in recently and the apartment was taken up by boxes and things that he just bought. At least he had a couch, so Mark could relax a little with his Budweiser.

“So, what’s up?” Chanyeol threw himself on the couch. It was worth the money.

“I brought this.” Mark pointed to the box, now on the floor. “It’s yours.”

“I thought I hadn’t left anything in your house?” Chanyeol frowned.

“You didn’t,” Mark gulped, rubbing his fingers on his jeans. “Wendy left it at my house yesterday.”

“Oh,” Chanyeol mumbled. He stared at his own beer, nodding.

“She said it was just a few things that she found recently,” he explained quickly, breaking the silence. “She looks fine, you know. She dyed her hair blonde again.”

“Well,” Chanyeol drank from the bottle and licked his lips. “Thanks for that, man. Sorry if you keep being pushed into this mess.”

“It’s nothing, I’m more worried about you two.” He let out a nervous laugh. “How’s the place here? Is it nice?”

“Yeah, really cool.” Chanyeol looked around, even if he was inside his own home. “I’m getting used to living alone. I’m going to get a dog one of these days.”

Mark was inspecting the place with his bright eyes.

“I honestly thought you would leave the country,” he confessed. “I’m surprised that you want to be here.”

“Going back to Seoul would make me sad,” Chanyeol shrugged. “When I get enough money, I’ll be able to move to Japan.”

Mark smiled, satisfied.

“Want to hear the songs I composed?” Chanyeol offered. Mark was a music nerd just like him and despite their age difference, they didn’t have trouble talking and understanding each other.

“You’ve been writing a lot, right?” Mark asked. “I listened to a song on your Soundcloud, I liked it a lot.”

“Yes, I have,” Chanyeol said. “I think that I can express my feelings better when I’m writing. I can feel less sad or anxious when I finish the song. It’s just… it’s so hard to say the right things face-to-face.”

“I know,” Mark nodded, raising his beer in a sympathetic gesture. “But are you feeling sad because of the break-up?”

Chanyeol rubbed his eyes, thinking about the immensity of events that were related to something so simple as a break-up. Baekhyun’s moodiness, Jongdae’s distance, Kyungsoo’s ghosting. The way he didn’t want to visit his parents and face his hometown again, even if none of them knew how deep the problem was.

“Not because of the break-up-I know how to heal my heart,” he finally said. “It’s because of the consequences. I didn’t want to make her sad, she doesn’t deserve it. She’s just nice and I’ve tried to be the best boyfriend that she could have, but it was bound to end since the start. I knew I was going to disappoint her one day…”

“Everyone makes mistakes, Chanyeol. You don’t have to be perfect or the best person.”

It was a hard lesson to learn, Chanyeol thought.

 

 

[3 February 2011]

 

He was waiting in the hall, holding his backpack. The students were leaving, eager to escape after the hell of a day. He had just bought the new Pac Man to play on his Wii so he just wanted to have a nice evening after the long phase of stress that came from spending his whole life so far in school. Two friends waved and he waved back, smiling brightly. Now that he was finally an adult and soon would be graduating, he deserved to have some calm days.

Kyungsoo sat down next to him so silently that he only noticed when he bumped his arm against his friend.

“Oh,” Chanyeol smiled, startled. “Hey, man. Didn’t see you there, sorry.”

“No problem,” Kyungsoo said simply. He looked sleepy and his hair was longer; sometimes he tied it in a bun right on the top of his head. For the last few months, they took the train home together, and once in a while, Kyungsoo spent the night. Chanyeol’s mother liked him and Kyungsoo lived way too far from school and the studio where he had a part-time job as an assistant.

“I bought dumb videogames,” Chanyeol said lazily. “Are you waiting for someone else?”

“Just you,” Kyungsoo said. “Baekhyun is focusing on his audition, he didn’t come today.”

“Ah, yes,” Chanyeol said. It was weird to think that he didn’t know what Baekhyun was doing. They used to be like twins. Well, school soon would be over, and soon they would lead different lives. Lately, Baekhyun was busy with vocal lessons and even piano lessons. He warned them that he would attend acting classes as soon as he graduated, and Chanyeol couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend the first months of freedom. Jongdae wasn’t much different, locked at home studying for the university entrance exam.

“Let’s go?” Kyungsoo asked, confused.

“Yes, of course.” Chanyeol stood up quickly, holding his bag. “Are you going to work?”

Kyungsoo nodded, following him. Chanyeol was walking slower so they could talk, admiring the sight that he was so used to and realizing it was about to become a memory.

“Do you like your work?” Chanyeol asked suddenly.

“Not really, but it allows me to learn a lot,” Kyungsoo said, struggling to hold his bag and a pair of thick books.

“I can hold them for you,” Chanyeol offered. Kyungsoo frowned. Chanyeol took the books from him forcefully.

“Ass,” Kyungsoo muttered, slapping him.

“I can’t stand books anymore,” Chanyeol confessed, staring at the pages full of photos. “I’ll probably fail the exam.”

“You won’t,” Kyungsoo said dryly. “You’re smart and you’re a fast learner.”

“Thanks,” Chanyeol muttered sincerely, even if he was just joking about failing – his mother’s expectations were high and he wasn’t going to disappoint her. A comfortable silence followed and Kyungsoo was the one to break it once they were standing on the train.

“Do you know what you want to study?”

Chanyeol shrugged. “I’d guess it’s Tourism.”

“Learning about places in college is different from visiting them,” Kyungsoo said wisely.

“I know, I know,” Chanyeol said. “But my parents won’t like if I choose any music-related degree.”

Kyungsoo nodded. Chanyeol didn’t ask about his choice because he knew that Kyungsoo wouldn’t even try. His family didn’t have the money to pay for another son to attend university, and he was obsessed with photography since he started his job, saving money to buy a camera. Chanyeol offered to pay, of course, but he refused.

Chanyeol was suddenly glad that he was able to see his friends growing, thinking about the future, yet he wasn’t that sure what he himself wanted. He opened one of Kyungsoo’s books to a random page and there was a beautiful picture of Jeju-do.

“We should go there,” Chanyeol said, touching the paper.

Kyungsoo stared at it, narrowing his eyes to see it better; he wasn’t wearing glasses.

“When?”

“Summer,” Chanyeol said. “Just the four of us, right? We’re adults now.”

 

 

 

.

[01 October 2013]

 

Chanyeol loved his part-time job. Most of his friends were working at the university or in terrible and cheap Architecture offices since they were still in their first year. Chanyeol had just changed to Interior Design and he wasn’t in a hurry to get too involved, so when a friend offered him a job as a bartender in one of the coolest pubs in the city, he said yes in a heartbeat. It fit him well and he even got to perform when they had no one on the tight schedule. He met new people, watched good bands playing live, and had fun.

They had one drag queen show, once a month. For some reason, the place was full of women, instead of the greasy wannabe music critics that often were around with their band shirts. The drags were also nice and funny and it was probably the best night for him when he could relax for a second while everyone was paying attention to the performers. Most people weren’t there to get drunk or get numbers, just to see the Drag show, but it was the perfect night for Chanyeol to get numbers.

Some drags were into fashion or lip-syncing, but that night it was definitely a stand-up comedian. Chanyeol didn’t watch it, though. He was interested in a group of girls that were sitting in the corner, barely drinking. They were definitely the most beautiful women he had ever seen (besides his sister, of course).

They didn’t get to talk to them that night but he was lucky when they came back to watch a rock band. He couldn’t believe it when he saw them walking in again, all in black. One of them had blonde, almost white hair and she got his attention, so he prayed that she was the one to ask for drinks.

God listened to him.

“Hey.” She approached during the break, hands on the counter, showing her long pink nails. “Can you get me two Heinekens and one Stella, please?”

“Of course,” Chanyeol said and he grabbed the ones inside the fridge, so he could flex his arms. He was slowly becoming a gym rat and it was paying off. He put four bottles in front of her, adding an extra Stella.

She stared at it, confused for a second, and then smiled.

“Juhyun is gay, Sooyoung is taken, and Seulgi is never interested,” she said.

“What?” Chanyeol was lost. “Who?”

“My friends.” She pointed without looking back. “That’s nice but it won’t work.”

Chanyeol smiled.

“It’s for you,” he tilted his head. “Do you drink?”

She gaped and looked over her shoulder before answering.

“I do, but not today, I’m driving,” she gulped. “I… prefer Budweiser.”

Chanyeol pouted almost involuntarily.

“Thank you so much, really.” She seemed nervous, pushing the extra beer away. “I… I’m sorry. It’s nice…”

“That’s fine. Can I have your number?” Chanyeol asked slowly and clearly before she panicked.

She stared at him, shocked. She had glitter in her eyes and looked adorable that surprised.

“Of course, I… I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.” She touched her tiny bag’s strap. “I’m not used to… you know… tall hot guys flirting with me… when I’m with my model friends.”

“Really? Their loss… Not even a minute and I got an ego stroke.” Chanyeol laughed aloud, scratching his neck. “Which is my kink, definitely. I love praise. What’s your name?”

“Seungwan,” she said, smiling. “Everyone calls me Wendy.”

She lived abroad, he realized. He noticed something different about the way she spoke.

“Chanyeol,” he winked. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She covered her face with both hands, embarrassed.

“Sorry.” She shook her head, trying to compose herself. “I’ll take the beers and then I’ll come back. I need a minute.”

“I’ll be here,” Chanyeol said simply.

 

 

[24 June 2012]

 

Chanyeol climbed the stairs slowly, humming a song. Baekhyun’s new place was cramped, starting with the stairs. Chanyeol was late but he was sure that no one would mind. The last time they were all together was in March, when they went to Dubai. Since then, even if they lived in the same city, the group chat was the only place where the four could talk. Chanyeol still saw Kyungsoo often, mostly because he liked to include himself in his photography gigs and Kyungsoo didn’t deny him that small pleasure. Since Baekhyun started auditioning for musicals, they met a few times to rehearse and talk about music, sometimes about their personal lives. Jongdae was swallowed by his university life and he didn’t leave home unless it was an emergency – and the reason Chanyeol was so suspicious about this meeting was that Jongdae himself asked them to meet (at Baekhyun’s apartment, since he was the only one living alone).

Chanyeol knocked on the red door with lots of charms hanging on it and a doormat with a HELLO in English.

“Can you open the door?” Baekhyun asked. Chanyeol tried to, but he was probably talking to Kyungsoo, the one who opened it.

“Hey,” Kyungsoo nodded. “Come in.”

Chanyeol dropped his backpack on the floor and smiled. They were sitting on the floor, right on the carpet that Baekhyun stole from his brother’s house. Chanyeol turned around, analyzing every corner of the room.

“I really like this wallpaper, though I think you could put a nice counter here and get yourself a bar.” Chanyeol took off his shoes. “I would reorganize the plants, too. Flowers on the balcony or the table…”

“Have you been watching those home décor series again?” Baekhyun said, giving him a beer. He looked sleepy, still wearing pajamas.

“Maybe." Chanyeol sat down, beer in hand. “I’m thinking about changing majors.”

“Again?” Kyungsoo frowned. His new glasses were small and had black frames; he looked like an intellectual.

“Yeah, that’s life, man,” he laughed. “What were you guys talking about?”

Baekhyun joined them and stretched his neck.

“Videogames, basically.”

Jongdae was leaning on a pile of pillows, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and white socks. He didn’t change much, the same as always, drinking his coffee and smiling gently.

“I’m trying to get them to play new games,” Baekhyun said. “But it’s hard, I think.”

“Shouldn’t you be busy with other things?” Kyungsoo asked.

“Some people don’t have one-track minds like you, man,” Chanyeol argued. “We need to have fun, too.”

“I use videogames to destress, to take a breath for once,” Baekhyun explained. “You should try. You look very stressed.”

“I’m not,” Kyungsoo said. “I stopped taking classes because they’re boring.”

“I thought it was because you didn’t like to take classes.” Jongdae was curious and he nudged Kyungsoo’s thigh with his feet. Kyungsoo grabbed it and shook it playfully.

“If they’re practical, I like them,” Kyungsoo answered like only he could: synthesizing everything in a few words. He was learning with actual photographers, like short courses everywhere.

“Do you guys want to go to my brother’s wedding?” Baekhyun asked suddenly. “I mean, it’s boring but you know… free food.”

“Are you going to sing?” Kyungsoo asked.

“Of course,” Baekhyun snorted. “That’s my only contribution, I guess.”

“If you know how expensive those things are, you wouldn’t say it like it’s nothing,” Chanyeol laughed. “Just because you’re a theater kid now, don’t think that other musicians are cheap.”

“Shut up,” he retorted.

“Jongdae,” Kyungsoo yawned. “Can you tell us why we’re here?”

Jongdae stopped moving, surprised. He sat up straight and moved his shoulders, trying to relax.

“I have good news.”

“Really?” Chanyeol pouted, suspicious.

“Yes,” Jongdae nodded. “I want you guys to be the first ones to know about it.”

They went quiet after that. Chanyeol loved having sex and affection, but he had to admit that the biggest thrill about their relationship was the fact that he was so important to them. They had that secret, but more than that they had loyalty and trust. Chanyeol was wanted and loved, and he was hungry for that.

“I just received an email confirming that I was selected,” he said, looking in their eyes, one by one. “I got a full scholarship.”

It was good news. Yet Chanyeol knew why they were taking so long to react.

“Beijing?” Baekhyun asked, gulping.

“Yes,” Jongdae smiled, unaffected by their silence. “The classes start in February.”

“Congratulations,” Kyungsoo smiled unenthusiastically. “I… I’m happy that you got it.”

Baekhyun mumbled ‘congratulations’ and Chanyeol knew that he was only doing that because it was Jongdae. He wouldn’t be happy if Chanyeol and Kyungsoo escaped, yet Jongdae’s situation wasn’t good. He was overworking to pay his bills and he needed a scholarship – his best shot was to leave the country.

“Ah, it’s nice that you’re happy,” Chanyeol confessed. “But I don’t want you to leave, so it still hurts.”

He couldn’t lie. The past years were good because they were together. He didn’t want to lose what they had.

“Nothing is going to change,” Jongdae smiled sadly. “It’s not like I’m being present right now. At least there, I’ll have the time and money. We can still travel together.”

“And we will,” Baekhyun said firmly. “Even if we don’t leave the country, I don’t mind. But we have to be just the four of us again.”

“He’s not dying,” Kyungsoo said, and Chanyeol resisted the urge to smack him. He was just repressing his sadness, as always.

“I’ll be here any time you need,” Jongdae promised. “Also, we have ways to communicate. We live in a modern age? You can talk to me.”

“I wanna kiss you, that’s the main problem,” Chanyeol teased. “You can’t do that with Skype.”

When they traveled, it was easy. Chanyeol knew it very well - the physical displacement led to psychological changes. It was simple to feel like you weren’t yourself when you were away. He had felt it tons of times, the feeling of dreaming, accessing another reality. Easy to grab your friends and fuck them, too. Now they were four adults inside an empty apartment with no obstacles to having sex and yet they were frozen.

“You will,” Jongdae said. “Don’t worry.”

Chanyeol sighed loud and crawled to Jongdae, hands, and knees on the carpet. He just fell on Jongdae’s body, laughing. Jongdae was giggling and Chanyeol held his face to kiss him.

They had a couple of rules but well, who cared? It wasn’t just sex, it was a whole experience, and they would probably go slower when Jongdae moved out; they were supposed to seize this opportunity.

“Not on my carpet, assholes,” Baekhyun complained. “I have a bed for that.”

 

 

 

[26 September 2016]

 

It really doesn’t make sense that he didn’t share it… I knew he wouldn’t tell earlier because he didn’t want you to fly all the way back here just to see him in a uniform and then disappear, especially after you traveled together to Japan,” she said softly, still confused. “He made sure to spend time with all his friends - he even visited your mother, Chanyeol.”

“It’s been a month already, auntie?” Chanyeol gulped, trying to breathe.

I guess it has, honey. I’m sorry. I remember that when the list came out, Kyungsoo was really relieved that he would have time to be with you three. He really loves you, his best friends. I knew he would have to do it one day and I think that he could’ve waited, but he said that he was able to do it now since his name was well-established and he wasn’t, you know, dating anyone. Chanyeol could hear her tone and the words were heavy with concern.

“So he’s been planning this for a while, right?”

Absolutely, my dear. You know Kyungsoo, he likes to be prepared… he takes everything so seriously. I’m just hurt that he didn’t tell you about it. I was certain that he would inform you… did you say that none of you knew?”

“Yes, auntie. We were worried. He didn’t answer messages—”

Ah, they didn’t allow them to use their phones in the first month, I think. He’s not talking to me either.”

“Well, but you knew why, auntie,” Chanyeol pouted, anger finally erupting. “We were in the dark! He didn’t tell us anything!”

You’re right, that wasn’t nice of him. Kyungsoo has this terrible habit of not sharing things."  She was empathetic as always. “I think that he was worried about something -  I think it was Baekhyun, not sure. He was very worried about something before he left and he threw so many things away! I was surprised. I thought that something happened to you, maybe a fight? So I didn’t want to ask. He doesn’t like it.”

“That’s okay, auntie. I’m happy that he’s fine.”

One of his friends keeps coming here, god, I never get his name right, which is weird. I think that he’s an actor, such a pretty boy, I’m sure I watched a drama that—he didn’t know either, poor boy. He said that Kyungsoo hasn’t spoken to him lately, he looked sad. But you’re his best friend, so you see, I’m also surprised. I’m sure you know more about him than me!”

She laughed and it was cute but Chanyeol was angry and frustrated; he couldn’t appreciate it.

“Thanks for telling me, auntie. I miss you. I’ll be back in November, so maybe I could visit you? Not your son, that asshole. He can rot in that place.”

She giggled, amused.

Ah, don’t be mad at him, Chanyeol-yah! I’m sure that Kyungsoo has a reason for his actions and he cares about you so much! He always says that you’re his best, best friend!”

“I see. Bye, auntie.”

Bye honey!”

 

Chanyeol stared at his phone, tired. He knew he would be disappointed when he found out why Kyungsoo disappeared, but well, it was way too much. He shouldn’t have called, maybe. Of course, nothing bad had happened, otherwise, he would know it immediately. But then Jongdae said that Kyungsoo didn’t even send a happy birthday note and it wasn’t something that he ever forgot; Kyungsoo cared, he had a good heart. Chanyeol was insanely mad at him, of course, but that was temporary.

 

pcy: kyungsoo enlisted last month

pcy: I heard from his mother rn

pcy: she said that he’s fine and healthy

bbh: he ENLISTED????????????????

bbh: wth

bbh: can we do shit like that so easily????

kjd: No

pcy: he’s been planning for months

pcy: the list was out before we went to japan

pcy: apparently, he just had miraculously good timing for that

bbh: well damn

bbh: good for him

kjd: Ah, I see. He sent me a happy bday message this morning

bbh: HE DID???????????

kjd: Yes, a simple one like every year. A few days late, but.

pcy: they gave back his phone, then

pcy: he didn’t have access to phones this month I think

bbh: what did you say to him

kjd: Thank you

bbh: and?

kjd: I love you, take care.

bbh: just that?

kjd: Yes.

kjd: I’m not going to pressure him into talking when he doesn’t want it.

kjd: Kyungsoo is a responsible man. If he wanted to talk, he would.

kjd: By the way, when is your flight, Chanyeol?

pcy: 20 november, 10pm

kjd: I think that I’ll be only able to go in December.

pcy: are you sure that you didn’t want us to go and watch your presentation?

kjd: No, it’s going to be boring.

kjd: Also, it would be a huge amount of money to watch me talking for a hour and then being eaten alive for another.

pcy: nah, it sounds great

bbh: you can watch with me, he’ll skype the whole thing

pcy: good

bbh: did auntie said anything else about kyungsoo?

bbh: I feel like I’m the only one in the dark

pcy: I think his bf didn’t know about his enlistment either    

pcy: and they’re not dating anymore

bbh: not surprised though happy to know he’s in the same situation

bbh: fuck him

pcy: kyungsoo was worried about you

pcy: but auntie didn’t know why

kjd: But we do.

 

 

 

 

 

[27 November 2013]

 

He moved to his side and found Baekhyun’s body glued to his. It was a cold, busy autumn outside and for the first time, Chanyeol had the final word (since his birthday) in picking the place. Outside of the beautiful glass wall was New York.

It was a huge effort to get them all to go. He had to call a few friends to get them a free place to stay (a nice flat), talk to his parents and ask them to pay for his tickets so he could use the money to make them more comfortable. Actually, Chanyeol even took out some savings from his account that was supposed to cover some university fees in the future.

“Good morning,” he said, voice rough from the long night.

Baekhyun opened his eyes slowly. The bedsheets were white and soft and it was really hard to leave the bed. There was no wall between the rooms, so Chanyeol could see Kyungsoo cooking in the other corner and Jongdae sitting on the couch, checking his tablet, both just in shirts and underwear.

“Happy birthday,” Baekhyun mumbled. “Do I have morning breath?”

“Absolutely,” Chanyeol said. “Like I care.”

Jongdae smiled, looking at them.

“Happy twenty-first!”

“Twenty-two,” Chanyeol frowned. “Oh, wait. We’re in the States. It’s twenty-one, right?”

“Do you want an omelet or pancakes?” Kyungsoo asked, staring at the frying pan. Baekhyun turned to hug Chanyeol, rubbing his face on Chanyeol’s shoulder like a cat.

“I thought we were going to eat out,” Chanyeol frowned. “Come on, we can get pancakes there, you don’t have to cook.”

“We can go later,” Jongdae said. “Let’s enjoy a little, just the four of us.”

“I’ll have to leave before lunchtime.” Chanyeol threw his head back and stared at the clock on the wall.

No one said anything, so he looked back.

“What?”

“I thought that you were joking?” Baekhyun asked. “I mean, are you serious about it?”

“Why would I lie about going to Canada for a day?” Chanyeol licked his lips, a bit confused. “I mean, I’ll be back tomorrow, guys. I put it on the schedule.”

“He did,” Kyungsoo said quietly. He was the only one who read the schedule before the trip and he often changed Chanyeol’s plans. Not this time, so he must have been fully aware.

Baekhyun pushed him and rolled to the other side of the bed.

“That’s…” Jongdae said. “Today is your birthday. We didn’t think you would spend it away from us, we’re here together.”

“I can’t believe this shit,” Baekhyun sat up and grabbed his underwear on the floor. “You brought us here just to have an excuse to go after your girlfriend. Damn, I feel like a whore.”

“No, I didn’t.” Chanyeol sat up too. “I always wanted to see that city, come on!”

Baekhyun was dressing angrily, ignoring him.

“Ah, Chanyeol,” Jongdae sighed. “That’s fucked up. We have rules. You can’t see other people when we’re together.”

“Tell them what you’re going to do there or they won’t leave you alone,” Kyungsoo said, still cooking like nothing happened. “I can’t defend you, anyway.”

Chanyeol stared at Baekhyun’s pissed-off expression and pushed his hair back.

“People, I’ll tell you I have a good reason to go there,” he said. “It’s not like I’m ditching you guys, please listen.”

Baekhyun turned to him, still angry. Jongdae put the tablet on his lap. Kyungsoo kept cooking. 

“I’m thinking about moving to Canada,” Chanyeol said. “I promised her I would come on my birthday so I could take a look at the place.”

“Oh,” Jongdae mumbled.

“You’re moving in with a girl that you met, like, last month,” Baekhyun asked slowly. “And you thought we would be relieved by that?”

“It’s not because of her,” Chanyeol said exasperatedly. “I’m moving out because I want to.”

“Good for you,” Baekhyun spat. “Now go there, asshole. God, I regret sucking your dick.”

“Chanyeol… that may not be the best idea. Don’t you think that you’re rushing… a little?” Jongdae said.

Baekhyun walked all the way to Kyungsoo and back-hugged him like a spoiled child. Kyungsoo wasn’t a fan of people touching him while he was cooking and he was tolerating it in solidarity, probably. He was the first to know and he didn’t exactly support Chanyeol’s decision, just… didn’t say a word about it.

“This is not about Wendy, I mean, she helped me figure out something that was bothering me a lot, okay, that I was really just jumping from thing to thing.” He gulped and pulled the sheets up to cover himself, just to get a little more credibility. “I was so annoyed and since I graduated, I’ve been trying to find common ground with my parent’s wishes, but I can’t. Everyone in my family is very successful and I’m not. Yet. If I stay with them, they’ll pressure me into doing another fucking thing that I don’t like and I have to say yes, because well…”

“Hmmm,” Jongdae mumbled. “And what if this is just another ‘thing’ too?”

“It’s not,” Chanyeol said. “I have a feeling. I know people around there, I can make it work. I’m done with college, I’ll keep on doing music… and if I’m wrong, well, then, I’ll go back to the start, but at least I didn’t fight my intuition this time.”

Baekhyun was still holding Kyungsoo, who was pouring coffee absently.

“I understand,” Jongdae nodded. “You know what’s best for you, Chanyeol. I just wished you could find another date to do that.”

“From now on, I guess you guys will have to share me,” Chanyeol said seriously. “Like we do with Baekhyun.”

“I would never do something like that,” Baekhyun mumbled.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae said softly. “Today is his day, let him spend it how he wants to.”

“Put it on the table,” Kyungsoo ordered, probably to all of them, showing off the beautiful pancakes with a tiny amount of butter on top. “Where’s the honey?”

Baekhyun let him go and Jongdae helped them set the table. Chanyeol decided to at least put on underwear before joining them. They had exactly four chairs, plus the table wasn’t big enough to avoid leg touching.

“Sorry, guys,” Chanyeol said, sensing that he ruined the breakfast and their mood. “I didn’t want it to look like I was choosing to leave you, I wanted to include you in this moment… in my head, it would be a great way to make everyone happy.”

“I don’t think it’s a smart move,” Kyungsoo said, holding his mug. “But I’m not against it. It’s fine.”

“Thanks,” Chanyeol said. “Tomorrow I’ll be here again and we can go out and pretend that we’re the girls from Sex and the City.”

Baekhyun was eating slowly, not looking at him. Jongdae poked him since Chanyeol wasn’t going to.

“I’m mad so don’t expect me to say something nice right now.” Baekhyun rolled his eyes. “You’re going to the other side of the world and Jongdae is also living abroad, OK, give me a break, I don’t wanna lose you all. It always feels like I’m losing a piece of me.”

Chanyeol was touched.

“Hey, I love you,” he said.

“Love doesn’t make people stay,” Baekhyun said, sinking the fork into the pile of pancakes. “Love is just a feeling.”

 

 

 

 

[19 November 2016]

 

The man was staring at him, completely shocked.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know that you had a degree.” He was really impressed. “You can do pretty much everything here.”

“Or anywhere,” Mark pointed out, leaning on the door. “I told you, Chanyeol knows every step to running a bar, a music studio, a home décor office, a gym… he’s just a genius.”

“Hey, hey, I’m not,” Chanyeol smiled. “Thank you for your compliments. What’s your name again?”

“Sehun,” the man smiled. He was insanely attractive, Chanyeol thought and then felt ashamed. There was no reason to, of course, but most people in Canada thought that he was straight, except Juhyun, Wendy’s best friend, and he was used to acting like that. When he was around his girlfriend, he genuinely didn’t care about other hot people around him.

But, well, now he was single. He could at least check them out.

“Nice to meet you, man,” he said. “I’m looking for a partner… to have my own place, I mean. My own professional place. Like an office. You get it, right?”

Mark and Sehun laughed at his discomfort.

“Good,” Sehun said. “I’m still thinking about trying an artistic career. I trained for a long time, back in Korea, since I was a kid. It didn’t work out well.”

“You should try,” Mark said. “It’s never too late to chase your dreams.”

“I can talk to you after I come back, I’m going back home for my birthday,” Chanyeol said. “We can discuss it more then.”

“That would be nice,” Sehun nodded.

Mark took Chanyeol to the bus stop. It wasn’t too late at night, but Chanyeol had to start packing immediately. He had plenty of things to do and he should’ve packed a long time ago.

“Your friend is nice,” Chanyeol said.

“He liked you,” Mark smiled. “Sehun is usually super shy.”

They stopped next to the sign. It was cold, terribly cold, and it would be even colder in a few weeks, but Chanyeol would be far away. The street lights were shining on his face like the day he was in Toronto for the first time.

“Maybe I won’t be back,” he said.

“What?” Mark asked. “Where?”

Chanyeol blinked.

“Nothing,” Chanyeol smiled. “Just thinking out loud.”

He listened to new songs on his way home. After a long night of packing, he slept in and got ready for the long day that was waiting for him. He didn’t overdress, he just put the suitcases next to the door and left.

He could walk there, but it was too cold, so he called a taxi.

Chanyeol didn’t even have time to search for her. Sitting casually on the grey stair, there she was. He wasn’t sure if she would come, after all. It was a relief. They used to come to the museum, to take nice pictures and chat. Chanyeol missed those fun days too.

She was checking her phone, arms resting on her knees, hair in a tiny bun that could only hold half of her short hair. We’re strangers now, Chanyeol realized sadly. She would avoid him at places, not know anything about his life… breakups were like that and he was just learning.

He sat next to her, not near enough to invade her personal space but not too far.

“Hey,” he said.

Wendy stared at him, serious.

“Hello.”

“How are you?” He asked politely, mirroring her; his giant sneakers next to her black boots.

“Okay, and you?” She didn’t have any particular emotion in her voice.

“Fine,” he nodded. “I received the package. Thank you for not… breaking those things or throwing them away.”

“Sorry for breaking your things,” Wendy said quickly. “I was really angry and I know that breaking things is just a petty and dumb thing to do.”

“I don’t care about a couple of vases or souvenirs,” Chanyeol smiled sadly. “If you felt like that, you were right to do it.”

“What do you want?” she asked impatiently. “I have things to do and you said that it wasn’t going to take long.”

“I wanted to explain one thing to you." He looked down. “I didn’t have time to talk that day—”

“Nothing that you say will fix things between us,” she said firmly. She had no makeup on her eyes but she wore dark red lipstick, which was unusual.

“I know, I’m just asking you to listen,” he said carefully. “I just want you to understand what happened. I said it was going to be short, and today I’m leaving to be with my parents for… a month or so.”

She side-eyed him, probably suspicious. She was right to do so.

“I’m listening.”

He took a deep breath.

“I lost my virginity when I was nineteen… to my friends,” he said, straight to the point. “Yeah, those friends.”

She looked at him, slightly surprised.

“We’ve been together since,” Chanyeol said. “And we’ll probably be together forever.”

“What do you mean ‘together’?” she asked, confused.

“It means that we love each other in a romantic way, though we have rules for that,” Chanyeol said. “It doesn’t happen all the time. Since we started dating, once in a year.”

Wendy was gaping and frowning.

“I know it sounds weird and that’s the reason why we don’t tell people. Even if we want to, imagine how they would react,” Chanyeol smiled again. “So we adapted our relationship. We got other partners. We live our life. And you saw a picture of us… like couples do? I mean. It’s kind of normal today.”

She gulped, looking down.

“Do they know? The others?”

“We don’t tell people. We can’t tell people,” Chanyeol repeated calmly. “I shouldn’t be sharing this but you already know about it so you deserve the truth.”

“So it’s been like… six years?” She counted on her fingers. “This has been happening for six years?”

“Yes,” Chanyeol nodded slowly.

“Have you been with anyone else?” She turned to him. “Since we started to date?”

“No,” Chanyeol frowned.

She rubbed her legs, eyes closed. He stared at the grass outside, almost white. Some people were walking and talking a few meters away from them.

“It made me feel bad… to see those pictures,” she said. “I was convinced that you were cheating on me with everyone, including our friends. I thought that I was becoming confident but I questioned myself. If I was enough… if it was my fault… if you didn’t love me at all.”

“I love you,” he said without thinking. “Sorry. It’s true.”

She wasn’t angry.

“How can you love me and be with someone else?” She sounded genuinely curious.

“I love them too,” Chanyeol shrugged. “It’s not that hard. I have a big heart.”

“You cheated on me, Chanyeol.” She was deadly serious. “And I had to see it. Those pictures… they haunt me.”

“I won’t discuss that because you won’t understand. ” Chanyeol stretched, feeling cold. “I’m not here to convince you to think the way I do, but you’re right to be angry because I hid it from you. I hope you can forgive me one day.”

“I won’t forget,” she said, way too calm. “It’s going to be hard for me to get over it.”

He stood up, resigned, and started to leave. There was nothing he could say or do to change what happened.

“Chanyeol,” she called him.

He turned back.

“I just now realized that your… friends… must have felt bad when we started to date,” she said, thoughtful as always. “I didn’t know why I never felt welcomed by them but… I wished things had happened differently.”

“Me too,” he said before waving goodbye.

 

.

 

[28 November 2016]

 

Chanyeol woke up a bit happier. He had tons of good things to do and there was still cake from last night, when his mother decided to throw a surprise party for him. Chanyeol was – and he knew it very well – a lucky man. He had everything that someone needed to be satisfied. He stretched in his old bed, smiling at the posters on his wall, and pulled out his phone from under the pillow. He had tons of messages to answer and he hadn’t had time to check them all.

He heard people talking at the door and yawned, tired. He didn’t want to leave the bed yet, despite it being an exciting day. He was a bit tired from the last few days when he had wandered from one friend’s house to another, went out to eat, and helped his family with whatever he was able to.

The door opened and the lights from the other room made him blink several times.

“I think he’s still sleeping,” his mother said and he realized that she wasn’t alone. “I’ll bring breakfast for both of you.”

“I already ate at the camp,” Kyungsoo said. “But thank you, Auntie.”

“Ah, you complain about their food,” she laughed. “Of course I’m going to feed you.”

Chanyeol didn’t move for a second; his brain worked slower in the mornings, hardly adapting to reality. When he finally understood that Kyungsoo was there, in his room, he jumped out of the bed.

Kyungsoo turned the lights on.

“Fuck,” Chanyeol said, almost breathless.

Kyungsoo was bald.

“Hello,” he smiled. “Happy birthday.”

Chanyeol stared at him, head to toe. He looked healthy, though a bit skinny, dressed in his old black clothes and a denim jacket.

“What the fuck.” Chanyeol rubbed his eyes, words stuck in his throat. It wasn’t a dream, after all.

“Sorry I couldn’t come yesterday,” he said, picking the clothes up off the floor so he could walk. “I only have the weekend. And it’s not always. Hope you had fun…”

He was cleaning the mess like he was the same tidy teenager as when they had sleepovers. The memory seemed to wake Chanyeol up, the situation exploding in pictures inside his head.

“What’s going on?” He asked. “Why are you here? Why the fuck did you enlist? When were you going to tell us? Why aren’t you talking to us? Why did you leave the chat?”

Kyungsoo didn’t seem to be affected by the wave of questions. He simply made his way to Chanyeol’s bed and sat on the corner, hands on his lap.

“Chanyeol, I’m sorry.”

Seeing his friend’s eyes so sad melted Chanyeol’s anger.

“What happened?”

Kyungsoo looked around; he knew that room very well, there was nothing new.

“I guess we know what happened,” he said.

“I know what happened to me.” Chanyeol lost his temper, pointing a finger. “I know what happened to Baekhyun and Jongdae. Do you know what happened, Kyungsoo? Do you, really? Because we know nothing about you.”

Kyungsoo was still silent.

“I had to call your mother to find out where you were,” Chanyeol kept gesturing wildly. “Baekhyun was desperate, dying to hear about you. We crossed the hardest moment of our lives and where the fuck were you? Huh?”

“I was trying to clean up the mess,” Kyungsoo said, staring into his eyes. “Before things went too far.”

That startled Chanyeol.

“It was my fault,” Kyungsoo said. “I shouldn’t have asked you to keep those pictures. It was going to end badly. I knew it.”

“It was my fault too,” Chanyeol gulped. “I could’ve said no.”

“I was planning to enlist this year, it’s true, but I was going to tell you as soon as you were all back to your routines,” he sighed. “I didn’t want you to be angry about it or change any plans because of me. I wasn’t expecting this to happen, so I had to improvise.”

“What did you do?” Chanyeol was scared.

“I erased all the things that could be… dangerous to keep. I made sure to shut down some people who were talking about Baekhyun. No one knows what really happened, of course, but they… I had to find ways to keep it down. Cutting you off was one of them.” Kyungsoo sounded hurt. “I talked to Taeyeon in person.”

“What?” Chanyeol almost screamed.

“She thought I was still dating,” he explained. “I wasn’t. I always break up… or keep a distance before we travel. I can’t live a double life.”

The two couldn’t face each other for a moment. Guilt.

“She failed to contact him—he was mad and didn’t want to listen to her… actually, he doesn’t want to believe her words for now, so she talked to me instead,” Kyungsoo said simply. “We made a deal. She’s not telling anyone, the subject is dead. It’s in the past.”

“A deal requires things from both sides,” Chanyeol argued.

“I told her everything,” Kyungsoo admitted. “She trusts me more than any of you, I think. I guess it’s because we’re not really close. It was easier to tell those things… even if we didn’t talk because… she was hurt. They were hurt. We did a bad thing, even if we didn’t want to.”

“I understand,” Chanyeol nodded.

“I’m sorry to keep you in the dark, I really am, but I didn’t want you to worry.” He looked at Chanyeol with fondness, teary-eyed. “It’s been rough but I knew this would happen one day. In my mind, the enlistment could slow things down… could push this day a little further. We knew it couldn’t last forever the way it was, you know it.”

Kyungsoo was being sincere and Chanyeol couldn’t deny it while seeing him baring his heart like he never had before. And he was also probably right, despite the fact that Chanyeol wanted to argue, to fight him.

“Delete the chat,” Kyungsoo said. “Avoid interacting in public. I can’t travel for a year and a half, anyway.”

“That would be weird.” Chanyeol was offended. “People know we’re close.”

“We just have to be less close,” he added quite gently. “Just old teenage friends who have a hard time keeping in touch in adult life like we’re supposed to be. Together in important events only.”

“I don’t like that.” Chanyeol felt like crying.

“I know she broke up with you, I’m sorry for not being there for you,” he said quietly. “Find another partner or look like you’re ready to mingle.”

Chanyeol wanted to leave the room; this conversation was worse than the last few months when he could still hold on to an imaginary future. He couldn’t stop shaking his legs and swallowing nervously.

“I’m not a robot, Kyungsoo. I can’t just pretend to be fine.”

“If we don’t fix what’s wrong now, then we won’t even have the option of being friends,” Kyungsoo said. “I really thought that at this point you all had realized that.”

Jongdae probably did, Chanyeol thought. Baekhyun would probably be resisting the truth, being as stubborn as Chanyeol was.

The door opened and Chanyeol sat up straight, surprised. Kyungsoo was expressionless for a second and, then, in the most impressive acting scene Chanyeol had ever seen, he smiled fondly at Chanyeol’s mother as if they were talking about video games, not the shittiest moment of their lives.

“Oh, is it a bad time?” She asked.

“No,” Kyungsoo said. “Your son is just complaining that I don’t talk to him, as always.”

“Ah, he does that a lot,” she said. “But isn’t it nice that you’re here? I bet you don’t have much free time now.”

“I don’t,” Kyungsoo agreed gently. “But we always make time for our friends.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[12 December 2016]

 

pcy has left the chat

kjd has left the chat

bbh has left the chat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

[8 February 2011]

 

He was almost freezing in the chair, trying not to move. He was wearing his good shoes and they weren’t warm or comfortable but they suited the doctor’s appointment better than his old Vans.

“Read the third line,” the doctor said right next to him. He was changing the lens, trying to find which one was the most accurate. Kyungsoo, behind that weird machine, Kyungsoo tried to read the letters and numbers while different lenses were being selected. It reminded him of the first time that he got his glasses and how shocking it was to realize that he didn’t see well before.

He didn’t know – he only found out when they selected the perfect lens and the world appeared clearly to him. He didn’t even remember the last time that he had seen something that wasn’t blurred.

And he didn’t mind the glasses because they felt like a shield. They protected him.

“I have a son almost the same age as you,” the doctor said, checking Kyungsoo’s data on the computer. “Are you graduating?”

“Yes,” Kyungsoo said quietly. “This week.”

“What are you going to do after that?” The man started to write something down, distracted.

“Work,” Kyungsoo answered.

“Good for you,” the doctor concluded. “My son doesn’t care about working or studying. He just likes playing videogames.”

Kyungsoo couldn’t afford not working or giving his best.

“Videogames are a big industry now,” he said. “One of the biggest.”

“Yeah, I know,” the doctor smiled. “But he’s not even interested in that. He’s lazy. Here’s your prescription.”

Kyungsoo tried to read it but he failed. His old glasses didn’t work anymore, as if his eyes knew that a cycle was ending.

 

 

[31 January 2016]

 

“I need the new lens,” Kyungsoo asked his assistant, pointing to the back. “Can you please get it for me?”

He didn’t want to lose the angle, so he and the model – who was a very professional teenager, thank all gods – didn’t move. She was standing in front of a green screen, a few lights over her, highlighting her white-and-sparkly hair, plastic boots, and red eye make-up. Behind his camera, Kyungsoo was dressed in all black, with glasses and a bare face. At this point, even people mocked how unbothered he was showing up to work in huge fashion photoshoots. He didn’t understand why – he was the photographer. When he decided to work with magazines, he was interested in the money and the easy name recognition, not in showing off.

“Good god,” Junmyeon said, opening the door. “This air conditioner is really necessary? It’s already cold outside.”

Kyungsoo couldn’t look at his friend, staring at the model instead. They were slightly scared of him, he knew. He heard about models that were difficult to work with, but they always treated him nicely, probably already informed that he wasn’t very flexible.

“Here.” The lens was given in his hand.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m sorry for making you wait.”

It took thirty minutes, including the change of clothing and make-up. Kyungsoo wasn’t a big fan of chroma key, but it was the cheapest and fastest way to create a decent photoshoot. He gave the instructions to the staff, especially the ones working on the background. Junmyeon bought him black coffee and it was still hot when Kyungsoo was able to drink it.

“Thank you,” Kyungsoo said. “Wanna talk outside?”

It was a code, both knew.

“Of course,” Junmyeon agreed easily, pulling on his expensive beige coat and taking the lead. It wasn’t safe to talk when there were so many people around. They walked to the stairs and closed the fireproof door behind them. Since Junmyeon was always overdressed – he was a fashion editor, after all - it felt like another photoshoot.

“I’m going to enlist,” Kyungsoo said simply.

Junmyeon stared for a long time.

“Well,” he sighed. “Fuck me, I guess.”

“Third trimester, you’ll have time to find a replacement,” Kyungsoo tried to make it less shocking. “I can work until June if everything works out as I planned.”

“What’s up with you?” he laughed. “I mean, it’s still morning? Give me a break.”

“I’m serious.” Kyungsoo held his arm. “I didn’t tell anyone yet but you.”

Junmyeon closed his eyes and shook his head as if he was trying to make his brain work.

“Why?” He smiled again, confused. “You still have plenty of time. I’m not thinking about that and I’m older than you.”

“I can’t tell you why,” Kyungsoo sat down. It wasn’t clean but he didn’t mind.

“You’re blocking the way,” Junmyeon said but sat next to him anyway.

“Yes,” Kyungsoo said absently.

“What?” His friend stared at him.

“Forget it.”

They stayed there, in silence, holding their cups and thinking.

“Is everything okay with your family?” Junmyeon asked, suspicious.

“Yes,” Kyungsoo answered.

“How about those friends that you always see?”

“They’re fine.”

“How about your boyfriend? How many times did you break up this month?”

“Zero,” Kyungsoo said. “But I’ll break up before enlisting.”

Junmyeon laughed; his pretty fingers, full of rings, hit his leg.

“I bet you have that in a spreadsheet,” he mocked Kyungsoo. “To do list: break-up again, enlistment.”

“I do,” Kyungsoo said seriously. “I have every little thing planned already. I’m going to travel to Japan for a month, in this case, July. And I’m always single when I travel.”

“God, please tell me that you’re not going to those saunas and sex clubs there, Kyungsoo. That’s fucked up. I know I don’t like you two dating but anything is better than to keep fucking random people.”

“You were the one who told me to have sex with him,” Kyungsoo retorted.

“Well, once,” Junmyeon sighed. “And only because I was tired of seeing him pretending to flirt with the camera when he was flirting with you.”

“It got us amazing photoshoots.”

“No doubt.”

They stayed like that, quietly drinking their coffees. It was nice to have a quiet friend, after all. A friend that is only a friend.

“I know what I’m doing,” Kyungsoo said. “I need a break from everything.”

“I know.” Junmyeon touched his arm. “I am highly aware of that, to be honest. But have you considered that something unexpected can happen and ruin your plans? Life is not that predictable, Kyungsoo.”

The photographer was silent while the warm coffee steam fogged his glasses.

 

 

 

[14 February 2014]

 

He noticed that a group was waiting for him behind the glass door.

Kyungsoo had to hug everyone on his way to the studio. They were nice to him; someone even brought a whole cake and he didn’t even have time to read the card and thank the sender. They were happy that he was again nominated but they also had a deadline and the staff was ready to work.

It was the third month working for a fashion magazine and Kyungsoo knew that, despite being a talented photographer, he was there because he was nominated for the unseen talent award and, despite not winning, he was the only South Korean to be on the list and – this point was extensively described in the interviews he gave – he was only twenty-one and had no art or photography degree or exhibitions to his name. They even called him an amateur when Kyungsoo was earning his money with that. His rural Korean districts series impressed a bunch of journalists, but a fashion editor found the pictures he took in Dubai, mostly Chanyeol and Baekhyun posing with their generally expensive clothing. 

Working with magazines was oddly stressful for the most random reasons. Models on their periods, someone was late, a new subject arose, they needed a few famous faces. Everything was about selling, promoting, influencing… Kyungsoo had a realistic, crude perspective that helped the pictorials and yet he felt annoyed by how fake everything was.

Junmyeon walked in during the break.

“Happy Valentine’s day, finalist,” he announced with a big smile. “I can’t believe it!”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Kyungsoo warned. “It’s a European prize, I doubt they would give it to me.”

“Money and an exhibition.” He ignored Kyungsoo’s pessimism. “I bet if you get the award, they’ll give something here, too, just to say that they totally knew that we had impressive newcomers in this country. Can you imagine talking to the president?”

This time, Kyungsoo was the one to ignore him. They had become good friends despite their working relationship. Kyungsoo made friends easily in his own area but the fashion industry was only interested in money, sex, and influence. Sometimes drugs.

“Do we have more photoshoots this week?” Kyungsoo asked. “I need to work in my studio.”

“I’m waiting for an actress to confirm,” he sighed, dusting off his pearl silk shirt. “Terrible management. They keep trying to put newer ones in her place no matter how much we ask for a famous one.”

“What’s it this time?” Kyungsoo asked absently, checking the lights. The models were drinking water and chatting; Kyungsoo eyed the tall model discreetly.

“Cartier,” Junmyeon said. “Watches for women. They liked her last role as an entrepreneur, so, you know. She was number one on the list.”

“Good,” he mumbled.

“Did you have a good time with that drummer that you were talking to?” Junmyeon asked, noticing the reason why Kyungsoo was distracted. “All those models have a 'sponsor', don’t even look at him.”

“I have to,” Kyungsoo said, pretending that he was taking it seriously. “How can I take pictures without looking?”

Junmyeon laughed and punched him.

“The drummer was fine,” Kyungsoo informed him, as always. They talked about their personal lives since they didn’t have close friends to open up to about dating men. The drummer was a guy that he met during Chanyeol’s work farewell party before his friend went to Canada. Kyungsoo waited a month to be sure that Chanyeol and the drummer weren’t friends – there was no rule about hooking up with friends but Kyungsoo didn’t want Chanyeol knowing about his sex life.

“He looked fine,” Junmyeon agreed. “But you’re not talking to that guy that I introduced you—stop staring at him, for God’s sake, they think that you hate them, not that you’re lusting after them.”

“I’m not interested,” Kyungsoo said sincerely. “I don’t mix work and personal life.”

He didn’t mix anything. He liked his life organized – if possible, in boxes.

“Didn’t you have a thing with Kim Jongin like… last month?” The editor stared at him in disbelief.

Someone walked in to ask about a cable and they changed the subject until the guy left.

“He’s an actor, he doesn’t work here,” Kyungsoo argued.

“He’s on every magazine cover, it’s a matter of time before he comes back,” his friend said. “Rumor has it that Gucci wants him. And we always have Gucci in our pictorials.”

“I don’t care.” Kyungsoo stretched his neck. “He doesn’t like me, I think. He got mad because I was dismissive after sex and he even slammed my door on the way out.”

“He’s temperamental, like most actors out there,” Junmyeon said. “Those drama guys think that everyone wants to suck their dick for free.”

Kyungsoo snorted, unused to such talking. It was good to talk to someone this way; between his friends, they didn’t share much about their personal lives. Too bad that their break was short and Kyungsoo still had to sit with the crew to edit the pictures. Junmyeon was busy and he had a rich, adventurous lifestyle, traveling around the world with his boyfriends.

He had great traveling suggestions; recently he had traveled to Chile.

“Win that award, get the money, and travel somewhere,” he said before leaving. “In the summer, South America is the best.”

Kyungsoo kept that. On his way home inside a cab, he opened the cake’s box and finally read that card.

Sorry for last time and congratulations! Let’s meet again this Friday.  – KJI

“They always come back,” Kyungsoo muttered to himself, almost bored.

 

 

[7 May 2010]

 

Kyungsoo watched a blurry version of himself in the mirror and he simply couldn’t believe it. He looked down and that he could see pretty well - there was a guy underneath him, face against the mattress, sweating and panting. The sheets were deep blue and his hair was brown; his skin was tan but a little red in the ass cheeks, where Kyungsoo was grabbing and pulling. He couldn’t hear anything, he couldn’t smell anything, he was overwhelmed.

“Come here,” Baekhyun said, pulling his face to kiss him. Kyungsoo heard Jongdae moaning under him and moved his hips harder. This was so confusing.

He liked the idea of sex. He knew that he was going to have sex someday but he never thought it would be this good.

He really liked it.

Chanyeol opened the door and he was hard again, like he hadn’t come just a few minutes ago and Kyungsoo was impressed and thirsty. He wanted to go down on him and so much more—

He came. It was painful and good, like finally finding the right spot to scratch, a drooling kind of feeling.

“Fuck,” Jongdae cried.

Baekhyun kissed Kyungsoo’s neck with an open mouth.

“I brought water,” Chanyeol said with big eyes. They had to hydrate after hours of boning – four teenagers fucking for the first time, of course, they didn’t care about anything else.

Kyungsoo stared at his blurred, brand new friends, and smiled.

Something had changed.

 

 

 

 

[29 December 2016]

 

He looked behind the lens to see the target. His fingers were in position; the memory of the gun in his hands was too real, he would never forget that—

Kyungsoo was still zoning out when he received the message. The other men in his dorm were sleeping or watching dramas together. He hadn’t slept right in a while and he was lucky that he was still able to use the phone when Chanyeol sent it. Soon it would be time to give his phone back and be forced to sleep.

 

PARK CHANYEOL: Important event

 

Kyungsoo read it and rubbed his face, trying to calm down.

 

PARK CHANYEOL: Jongdae & his boyfriend are in town, they want all of us to attend his family new years party

PARK CHANYEOL: he says it’s nothing fancy, just drinks and music

PARK CHANYEOL: I CALLED YOUR MOTHER SO DON’T LIE I KNOW YOU CAN GO

PARK CHANYEOL: I know you have to leave early, just say hello and we’ll be fine

PARK CHANYEOL: Baekhyun really wants to see you

PARK CHANYEOL: please

 

Kyungsoo sighed, sitting on his bed. The days were shorter when he was in the camp. Everything was different and heavier, in deep dark colors.

 

DOH KYUNGSOO: I’ll see what I can do

 

Chanyeol didn’t send anything else. He was still angry about the whole thing. At this point, Kyungsoo wasn’t angry about anything. He was just surviving another day. He closed his hands. Maybe he should be more excited to shoot with something else other than a camera.

 

 

[23 February 2014]

 

Kyungsoo tapped the nightstand until he found his glasses and proceeded to put them on his face so he could see the ceiling better. He hadn’t moved for a few minutes because the orgasm was too violent; his arms and legs were like jelly.

“There’s cum on the ceiling,” he whispered, shocked. That was nasty.

“What?” Jongin asked, turning to him. Thank God, Kyungsoo thought. At least he didn’t fall asleep like last time.

“Nothing,” Kyungsoo said. He covered himself to the chest, even if he was sticky and sweaty and his skin was gluing to the sheets. Jongin had his elbow on the bed and palm holding his face, staring at Kyungsoo in silence. Junmyeon once said that they had the same creepy stare, but Kyungsoo knew very well that he was being tested.

“I love how disappointed you look after sex,” Jongin said with pure sarcasm. “It’s the highlight of my day.”

Kyungsoo wanted to roll his eyes so badly.

“I’m not,” he said, tired. “I literally ejaculated onto the ceiling. How can I possibly be more satisfied than that?”

He wasn’t disappointed. He really wanted to tell Jongin that but he couldn’t, of course. How could he explain that he was, in fact, just missing having sex with three people that he loved and cared about and who knew him better than anyone else? All those one-night stands were midnight snacks so he wouldn’t starve. Kyungsoo watched how every one of his friends found themselves a partner and lived very well and contently, but he couldn’t do the same – he had a one-track mind. He had a strong moral system and he couldn’t imagine himself having a double life.

Jongin sat up and left the bed, standing naked in the room.

“I don’t even know why I keep humiliating himself this way,” he said and picked his jeans up off the floor like they weighed a ton.

Kyungsoo was the one who called him, so he was not sure why Jongin was overdramatizing the whole thing. They had sex approximately eight times during three encounters and they went well in Kyungsoo’s opinion. None of the other guys complained about Kyungsoo’s lack of enthusiasm after sex; they probably didn’t care, which was the right thing to do.

“You don’t have to come here if you don’t want to?” Kyungsoo stated the obvious. “I won’t be offended.”

Maybe he was afraid of pissing Kyungsoo off and handling the consequences in his professional life. Kyungsoo would never say a bad word about him (Jongin was as professional as him) and sex was just for fun, after all.

Jongin was buttoning his pants.

“Now you make the others look disappointing,” he said, sighing. “I wonder why you’re so good in bed and yet so uninterested.”

“I’m interested in you,” Kyungsoo again felt like explaining an obvious fact. “That’s why I called you. I don’t call people often.”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Jongin was putting his white t-shirt on, almost unbothered. He was one of those people who could look handsome in anything – that’s probably why he sold pretty much everything that he promoted. The first time Kyungsoo took pictures of him, he felt like he could do that for hours without getting bored; Kyungsoo sometimes couldn’t deal with the gorgeous models with dead eyes and boring expressions all day long, but Jongin had something that many lacked: charisma.

And terrible mood swings, apparently.

“Where’s my bracelet?” he mumbled, walking around in Kyungsoo’s apartment. “I can’t lose it.”

Kyungsoo stood up, wrapped in the sheets, and removed the jewelry stuck between the bed and the nightstand. The bed had been shaking too much and it ended up hitting the nightstand a couple of times.

“Here,” Kyungsoo said.

Jongin turned to him, surprised, and stared at the bracelet.

“Ah.” He took it gently. “Thank you.”

It was more uncomfortable than that time when he fell asleep in Kyungsoo’s bed. He looked a bit embarrassed with Kyungsoo’s calm response.

“Sorry,” he said again. “You kind of hurt my ego. I’m giving my best and I’m still feeling like I’m not good enough.”

“Because I’m not worshipping you like people do?” Kyungsoo asked and it was a bit rude but he was genuinely curious. Did Jongin want Kyungsoo to smile just to please him?

Jongin’s face showed nothing but disgust.

“You don’t even know me,” he said. “That’s an awful thing to say.”

He turned back to leave and Kyungsoo felt a bad taste in his mouth. He was rude and it wasn’t his normal behavior. Kyungsoo always made sure to be as polite as he could.

“Let’s know more about each other, then,” he tried. “Go on a date.”

Jongin was already reaching the door when he heard those words and turned back.

“Great. And what’ll we do on this amazing date?” he asked, unimpressed. “I don’t even know why you beg me to come and have sex with you when you clearly don’t want to have sex with me.”

Kyungsoo blinked, silent.

“It’s obvious, you know,” Jongin said before leaving. “You don’t have to pretend.”

The door closed.

Kyungsoo stood in the same spot. Maybe he was right, he thought. Kyungsoo already had what he needed, so why did he chase after people when he didn’t want them? He never gave anyone the slightest chance. His friends were outside having a real-life with other people they loved (Baekhyun let it slip, Jongdae was dating too, head over heels about the guy) and he couldn’t even open up during sex.

He looked for his phone in the mess of his room and ran to the kitchen window where he could see the back garage door. Jongin was waiting there, probably calling a taxi or a personal driver. Kyungsoo called him.

Jongin stared at the phone and turned back to the building. Kyungsoo waved in the window, hoping that he could see it.

What?” Jongin answered the call.

“Let’s go on a date,” Kyungsoo asked again. “Please.”

What’s your problem?” Jongin asked seriously.

“I’ve never been on a date,” Kyungsoo said. “I didn’t ask anyone out before.”

Jongin took a while to answer that.

I’ll send you my schedule and then you’ll tell me when.”

Kyungsoo smiled, his heart beating fast, erratically.

“Okay.”

 

[29 November 2013]

 

“You’re cheating,” Chanyeol accused Jongdae for the tenth time.

Jongdae tried to say no but he could only shake his head while laughing loudly. Kyungsoo loved the sound of his laugh, it was delicious to hear.

Chanyeol threw his cards on the table and stood up, angry. He had already done that a few times before, but he wasn’t going to give up until he won a match. Kyungsoo rubbed his nose in Baekhyun’s hair and it smelled like meat since he insisted on eating in a famous steakhouse. They had come back home and had sex and there was only one bathroom with a tiny bath and shower inside the flat so it had to be one at a time if they wanted to clean themselves. Baekhyun slept without a shower, no doubt, he didn't even move after.

“Wash your hair,” Kyungsoo said, caressing his arms. Baekhyun looked up, rubbing the back of his head on Kyungsoo’s chest, splayed on the couch in his underwear.

“Why are you giving me orders?” he frowned. “You’re the baby here, my baby.”

“Your hair stinks,” Kyungsoo said. “It reeks of meat.”

“I thought you loved meat.” Baekhyun grabbed his hand and held it. “It’s a nice smell.”

“It feels greasy,” he argued. Chanyeol screamed this is the last time and sat on his chair again while Jongdae was still laughing.

“It’s hydrated. You wouldn’t know it because you barely have hair,” Baekhyun said.

“What if I wash your hair, then?” Kyungsoo suggested.

Baekhyun smiled.

“Kyungsoo is going to wash my hair,” he announced proudly.

“It’s about time,” Jongdae said while staring at his cards. “We’ll go out later and we have to look presentable.”

“We’ll only leave after I kick your ass,” Chanyeol was still angry. “Don’t worry, I’ll win soon.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Jongdae said.

Kyungsoo took Baekhyun to the bathroom. He chose the shampoo, a nice soft towel and coconut oil before helping his friend to kneel before the bath. He wanted warm water; it was cold outside and even if they could be comfortably naked in the flat, cold water wouldn’t be nice.

Fingers on his scalp, knees on the floor. The entire world outside was a bit quieter.

 

 

 

 

[1 November 2015]

 

A foreign song was playing in the car and Jongin was driving smoothly, though Kyungsoo knew that he wasn’t calm. Four in the morning, he checked, they had really enjoyed the Halloween party after all, and Kyungsoo was slightly drunk. Jongin was heading to their apartment and they had to be alert just to be sure that no one was following them. Three gates inside the village and Kyungsoo was still laying on the backseat, staring at the ceiling, phone in his hand. He had to wait until Jongin was already inside of their apartment before he even left the car, being silent on his way, maybe taking the stairs.

When Kyungsoo opened the door, Jongin wasn’t playing with his dogs. The glass door that led to their long, huge balcony with fake grass was closed. He stared at his side, checking which lights were on – corridor, probably their room. Kyungsoo took his shoes off and went to the kitchen to drink some water. There was a fight coming, he could feel it and it was the worst because both of them hated any display of aggression. They never screamed, never hit each other, and almost never called each other bad names. After all, they were trying hard to have a quiet private life.

Kyungsoo decided to face the problem and found Jongin fully dressed, from shirt to socks, in their bed with his back against the long wooden headboard.

They stared at each other.

“What?” Kyungsoo tried to sound as soft as he could.

“You know what,” Jongin mumbled, unconsciously pouting. His brown hair kept falling into his eyes.

Kyungsoo repressed a sigh and sat next to him in bed, mirroring his position.

“I really don’t know what you want me to do,” he said, putting his hand carefully over Jongin’s thigh. “I can’t control Baekhyun’s behavior. That’s how he is, he’s just kidding.”

There was a reason why he avoided bringing Jongin with him to his friends’ events. Most people thought that it was because they were closeted, which wasn’t true. Jongin’s friends loved to go to their apartment, asking Kyungsoo to their parties and gigs and there was no problem at all. Kyungsoo liked them all too, despite not being close with them.

“I just want you to tell me the truth.” Jongin shook his head. “I don’t care if your friends hug you or are touchy around you. I could be jealous, of course, but I know I shouldn’t so… that’s not what’s bothering me.”

“That’s just the way it is, you saw him flirting even with Chanyeol’s girlfriend—”

“Not the same, Kyungsoo.” Jongin slapped his hand away. “Is it so hard to admit that he’s into you? That you had something in the past?”

Kyungsoo rubbed his own face, tired. Yes, it was Baekhyun’s fault and his tendency to see everything as a dare, crossing the line, playing with fire. Jongdae was extremely discreet – no one, even Jongin, would suspect. Jongdae kept his distance, smiled tightly, never stared too much. Besides, living abroad and having a boyfriend that was way too chill always protected him. He didn’t have to prove anything. Chanyeol was a bit careless but the thing was: most people didn’t take him seriously and Kyungsoo knew that Chanyeol had to work hard to not be seen as superficial and dumb. Chanyeol and Baekhyun played with each other in a suspect way but it seemed just… for fun. Jongin didn’t question Chanyeol and Kyungsoo’s friendship mostly because they were too close – as soon as he heard Chanyeol’s mother calling Kyungsoo her son, his mind couldn’t take Chanyeol’s loving stares as romance. Also, and maybe more importantly, Chanyeol could really convince some people that he was straight, being all lovey-dovey with his adorable innocent girlfriend.

“The way he looks at you,” Jongin said. “It’s not the same.”

The reason why Kyungsoo kept Jongin away from them was that Jongin was an actor and his friends weren’t. He knew how to read emotions and bad acting.

“What does that bother you so much?” Kyungsoo didn’t want to fight. “He has a girlfriend, I have you, and he’s my friend.”

Jongin stared at him, serious.

“It’s because he’s more important than me.”

“There’s no such thing,” Kyungsoo retorted. “This is not a competition.”

“Great, because otherwise, I would definitely lose,” he snorted sadly. Kyungsoo finally sighed and jumped off the bed, endlessly tired. The pretty posters that they framed on the walls seemed to be listening, staring, judging.

“I’ll be with the dogs on the balcony,” Kyungsoo said. “Don’t wait for me.”

“Nice,” Jongin mumbled dryly. “Let’s just pretend it’s fine until you have to leave with your friends and conveniently break up again.”

Kyungsoo stopped walking and turned back. He wasn’t an angry person but when Jongin got this close to figuring it out, he was defensively mad.

“I think pretending is the best thing we do,” Kyungsoo said seriously. “Should we both stop pretending? Would it be good for us to tell the truth?”

Jongin was cornered – it wasn’t nice to say that. Being closeted wasn’t a choice for him.

“You’re being mean,” he stated, shrinking. “On purpose.”

Kyungsoo couldn’t deny it so he left the room without a word, closing the door after him.

 

 

 

 

[31 December 2016]

 

Kyungsoo was finishing his hamburger when he got home, walking slowly, staring at everyone. Every time that he was able to leave, even if it was less than a day, he felt incredibly alive. Being a soldier was a way to escape the strong pressure of his career and private life and that was what he was looking for, but he wasn’t ready for losing simple pleasures like eating junk food for lunch and walking in the neighborhood all by himself. He threw the empty paper bag and the napkins away, ignoring his phone. He wanted to surprise his mother so he grabbed his keys, tiptoeing in the garden.

“Hey,” someone said.

Kyungsoo looked back, startled, raising fists. It was an instant reaction – luckily for him, Jongin was still crossing the street. Kyungsoo relaxed a little, just a little.

“What are you doing here?” Kyungsoo walked to him, trying not to be loud. Jongin was wearing casual clothes as he had just gone to buy groceries, hair pushed back, and black sneakers.

“Waiting for you,” he said, serious. “You don’t pick up your phone anymore.”

“I’m trying to focus on my service,” Kyungsoo said. “Why didn’t you go in? My mother seems very familiar with your face now.”

Kyungsoo knew very well that Jongin was visiting his family, which was weird since he never did that when they were actually dating. They had broken up so many times that none of them were mad about it anymore, but the photographer suspected that his ex was mad about the lack of communication – like everyone else.

“It was about time,” Jongin shrugged. “She’s gentle and seemed to raise you well, not her fault that you’re a slippery asshole.”

“What do you want?” Kyungsoo asked, tired.

“Don’t give me this cold treatment,” Jongin walked closer and Kyungsoo stepped back as a habit since they were in plain sight. “You didn’t even tell me you were enlisting. I thought it was just a regular break-up.”

It was supposed to be funny. Kyungsoo frowned, annoyed.

“I don’t owe you anything,” he said calmly. “We’re no longer dating and please don’t convince my mother of that, she’ll believe it.”

Jongin’s sarcastic smile died on his face.

“You really think that you just need to say goodbye and then, turn off feelings, everything is over… that’s not how things happen, Kyungsoo. People aren’t pieces that you move on your chessboard,” Jongin said, and now he showed his angst. “Should I be happy that you did me the favor of breaking up so we could move on with our lives? Do I look like I can move on that easily, just because you have decided that this time you don’t want me back?”

Kyungsoo didn’t say anything, thinking about Chanyeol’s tears and Baekhyun’s endless messages. 

“Should I be grateful that you broke up with me before packing your things to go to your stupid honeymoon with your ‘friend’?” Jongin said slowly, giving Kyungsoo chills from pure fear. “Is that how I’m supposed to act?”

Kyungsoo couldn’t breathe. He unconsciously looked over his shoulder to see if someone was around. Jongin wasn’t supposed to know anything – Taeyeon said he hung up on her as soon as he heard their names and that she would never speak about it again.

“Why are you telling me this? Did you hear from Ta—”

“She didn’t have to say a word,” Jongin smiled sadly. “I know why a reasonable woman would punch her boyfriend in the face and kick him out. She noticed that too late, right? I knew from the start. Poor girl, she was really shaken. I wasn’t, you know. I know when you’re lying to me and I know that you two are lovers.”

Kyungsoo wanted to laugh; he was so right and so wrong. Yet he didn’t.

“We’re not,” he gulped. “It’s over.”

Jongin seemed confused, moving his head. His eyes had that deep staring look as if he was searching for lies – this time, there were none.

“You broke up with both of us?” he asked as if he couldn’t believe it. “It’s even worse than I thought. What do you think you’re doing?”

Something that’s not working, Kyungsoo thought.

“Please go,” he said weakly. “I’m here to spend time with my family. You’re not invited.”

They were both about to cry in the middle of the street. Before, it was so peaceful, and Kyungsoo felt immensely guilty. He had heard about how his friends’ relationships ended so violently and how sad they were and it felt like reading fiction – now it was happening to him and he couldn’t stop picturing each of them.

Jongin held him and kissed him. Kyungsoo’s body went tense. It was risky and shocking, of course. Besides, he had never kissed in public like that, he wasn’t used to that type of affection. Years of hiding, calculating, tensing, worrying hit him and he started to cry, shaking in his ex’s arms.

“I’m sorry,” Kyungsoo whispered against his mouth. “I’m sorry.”

He was wrong—no, it went wrong. Kyungsoo thought that he could avoid the fall of his house of cards by cutting them out earlier, by giving them a break, but it was too late. Now everyone was affected, everyone was paying for their mistakes, and no one was happy.

“I know,” Jongin hugged him tightly. “I know you’re not that cold.”

Kyungsoo knew that they should stop touching and go inside but he simply couldn’t stop crying. It felt liberating, like the first time he put his glasses on or when he lost his virginity, and he was so tired of being strong.

“At this point, I just want our old life back,” Jongin confessed. “I’m not even mad at you anymore.”

“Let me,” Kyungsoo broke their hug and wiped his face. “We shouldn’t be here, we should—let’s—”

“You can take a minute,” he said. “You don’t want your mother to see you like this. She’ll think that it’s my fault.”

Kyungsoo relaxed, massaging his own neck.

“We have to talk,” Kyungsoo whispered. “I have to… explain…”

He deserved the truth, Kyungsoo concluded. It was the right thing to do after all that happened and at this point, he couldn’t hide anymore.

“I think Chanyeol is here,” Jongin pointed.

Kyungsoo reacted way too fast, eyes on the car stopping next to them. It couldn’t be possible – what absolute bad timing was this? Kyungsoo didn’t even explain himself; he rushed to the car even before Chanyeol had finished parking.

“Go away,” he pleaded, lowering his voice. Chanyeol was driving and Jongdae was in the passenger’s seat, both staring at him as they had just seen a ghost.

“We came to pick you, we called—” Chanyeol said, confused. “What’s wrong?”

Jongdae seemed worried.

“Are you crying?” he asked, grabbing the seatbelt. Kyungsoo leaned into the car, anxious.

“Please leave,” he begged. “I can go to your party later. I’ll explain everything but not now.”

The two were frozen, not saying a word. The back door opened.

“Like I’ll let you disappear again,” Baekhyun said, leaving the car. “Why are you crying?”

Kyungsoo’s sight was blurred and it had nothing to do with his astigmatism. His hands were cold and he tried to speak clearly.

“Get back in,” he repeated. “Leave, this is not good.”

“Is he in danger?” a voice asked from inside of the car; it sounded like Jongdae’s boyfriend but Kyungsoo wasn’t sure. Kyungsoo looked back and Jongin was still in the same spot, looking at them, just a few meters from the car.

“I’m not,” Kyungsoo said quickly. “I’m in the middle of something.”

Chanyeol noticed how seriously he spoke and nodded. Jongdae was just alert.

“Come back in, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol ordered, hands on the steering wheel. “We’ll talk to him later.”

Baekhyun was standing behind the open door. He looked skinnier, older and different than he was months ago. Kyungsoo was happy that he got to see them all again even if it was such a bad moment. He truly loved them, he realized. There was a part of him that only existed when they were together - he could have a full life without them and it would be still missing.

“You made a choice,” Baekhyun said, too serious. “And it’s not us. After all this time, you left us.”

“Please,” Kyungsoo asked again. “I can’t discuss that now.”

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol said firmly. “Get the fuck in.”

Jongin went over to them, which was predictable. He didn’t look at the car, just stared at Baekhyun’s face.

“Leave,” he said dryly. He looked threatening like he never had before.

“Fuck you,” Baekhyun said and his voice broke. Chanyeol unbuckled his seatbelt and left the car.

“You really want another black eye,” Jongin said before Chanyeol even reached them; it pushed Baekhyun’s buttons, of course.

“You’re just a replacement,” Baekhyun said angrily.

Jongin moved like he wanted to kill Baekhyun and Kyungsoo jumped to stop him. Chanyeol was the most agile, pulling Baekhyun back in just a second. Jongdae opened the door and it separated the two pairs by accident.

“What are you doing?” Jongdae asked, shocked. “Have you two lost your mind?”

Kyungsoo was just reacting at this point.

“Get in,” he whispered to Jongin. “Get inside and tell my mother that I’m coming.”

Jongin stared at him, confused.

“Please,” Kyungsoo begged. “I’ll be there in five minutes, I promise you.”

Jongin stared at Baekhyun again but nodded, walking slowly like he was expecting something to happen. As soon as he disappeared, Kyungsoo sighed.

“Are you okay?” Jongdae asked, reaching to him. Kyungsoo accepted his hug, breathing deeply.

“Having the worst day,” Kyungsoo mumbled.

“Are you coming with us?” Chanyeol asked quietly. “Do you… need help?”

Kyungsoo stared at the man in the car and Jongdae noticed it.

“It’s fine,” Jongdae said gently. “He’s okay with it.”

Kyungsoo looked at his friends and he felt like crying again but he repressed his urge.

“I can’t go to the party,” he said. “It’s too late. Aren’t you tired?”

It wasn’t like it sounded – casual. He meant something else.

“We agreed that we’re friends,” Chanyeol said. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Baekhyun wasn’t staring at him, clearly pissed.

“I need to rest,” Kyungsoo said. “I need a longer break. They only give me a day and I thought that a day is just fine but it’s not. If we don’t rest enough, there will be not enough energy in the future.”

He was being vague on purpose, of course. They knew what he meant.

“I understand,” Jongdae said. “Go home and rest, Kyungsoo. You deserve it.”

Chanyeol was expressionless as if he was finally realizing something. He looked at Kyungsoo and blinked a few times.

“Maybe a New Years’ Party is not important enough… it’s not really a holiday, and you must be tired,” he said. “When would be a good moment?”

Kyungsoo stared at Baekhyun, trying to think.

“Birthdays are nice,” he said.

“Birthday parties, I see,” Chanyeol nodded. “But they have a lot of people, right? One day we’ll have time to be just the four of us.”

“Yes,” Kyungsoo said. “One day.”

“Maybe an anniversary,” Jongdae suggested. “It’s an important date for the four of us.”

Kyungsoo nodded.

“Go home,” Chanyeol said. “Take a nap. We’re still best friends, no matter what.”

“Thank you,” Kyungsoo said. “And I’m sorry.”

“Go,” Jongdae said, smiling. “He’ll be fine.”

Baekhyun didn’t say anything. Kyungsoo wished he could say the exact thing to express how much he felt but that wasn’t possible.

 He whispered,

“We should go out for coffee,” and left. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

[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.”

 

 

.

Chapter Text


[May 3, 2010]

Baekhyun opened the door to the cafe. He didn't particularly like coffee shops - they were quiet, they didn't have a lot of food, and you couldn't talk out loud. He only went to cafes when he was sad. He rubbed his dirty and ripped Nike on the small carpet that said 'welcome!' And looked around. Chanyeol was sitting in the corner, reading comics. Baekhyun asked him out; they wanted to see a movie, eat popcorn and make small talk. Chanyeol had no idea about what Baekhyun had planned. There was a couple at the back table, a lady being attended to and a boy sitting in the chair by the door. He looked up and faced Baekhyun. He wore thick glasses, had short black hair and a tough look in his eyes. Baekhyun looked at his lips and sighed without restraining.

Then he turned and shouted:

"Any virgin under the age of twenty, please come to a table upstairs if you want to stop being a loser," Chanyeol had turned around and he was looking at Baekhyun in fright, wide eyes and the magazine was already on the floor. "I have this problem to solve today."

That said, Baekhyun ignored his best friend and climbed the stairs slowly. He looked back and then went up, step by step. The table where he used to sit was on the first floor, which had no window and was dark, dimly lit and almost no customers. It was good to listen to that sad soundtrack and cry sometimes. Cafes had their use.

"Well, now everyone knows I'm a virgin," Chanyeol said, placing his heavy backpack on the chair next to it. “Thanks a lot. If I knew you would do that, I wouldn't even have come.”

He sat in front of Baekhyun and sighed.

"Everyone knows that you are a virgin, Chanyeol," Baekhyun said, analyzing the menu. “It's in your face. It can be read on the curve of your ears.”

"Do you need to make a scene like that?" Chanyeol said, but he was red. "Are we going to see the movie or not?"

"It depends on whether we get what I need," Baekhyun pointed to the menu. "Coca-Cola plus an expresso should keep us on all night, right?"

"Probably," Chanyeol said. "Are you trying to get high?"

"Maybe," Baekhyun shrugged. "There's a guy from our school here, did you see him?"

"Yeah," Chanyeol took the menu from Baekhyun's hand. “Kyungsoo. He takes a drawing class with me. ”

"You don't even attend that class."

"Indeed," Chanyeol laughed. “But he does. I think he's good at that. ”

"He has a mouth that ..." Baekhyun said thoughtfully. "There are people who exude sex, I don't know."

"You're the pervert," Chanyeol laughed heartily, shoulders shaking inside his coat. “Not everyone thinks about sex all the time. I think he's cute.”

"And what do you think about?"

"Music," Chanyeol said. “I've been trying to compose since morning and I can't. It just doesn't come out. ”

Someone went up the stairs and Baekhyun's heart beat faster. He unconsciously pushed his hair back - it was long and he wanted to dye it pink, but he was trying to convince his mother first.

It was the guy who worked at the cafe. He was very young and had a face that never stopped smiling. Thin. Nice.

"Hello," he said, rubbing his hands on the thin green apron of the coffee house.

"Hi," Chanyeol turned his long neck back. "Is there a vegetarian choice for this pastry?"

"Meat, chicken and soy," he said. "It's frying."

"I haven't decided on coffee yet," Baekhyun said. “Would it be weird to order a large espresso? Like in a glass of milkshake? ”

"Do you want to die?" Chanyeol frowned and turned to the attendant. “Don't engage with him; he wants to end up going to jail. He can't take any crap, it's just a threat. He only knows how to bark, I swear.”

"Ah, but I hope he doesn't make any empty promises," he said, smiling. "I didn't come here to take your order."

Baekhyun and Chanyeol were silent, confused.

"I'm 18," he said, smiling. The name on his tag was KIM JONGDAE. “And I'm a virgin. And coincidentally, a Virgo, which is the Latin word for virgin, so there's no way I could have been wrong about what kind of virgin you want. What do you want to talk to me about?”

Chanyeol slowly turned to face Baekhyun.

"Sit down," Baekhyun pushed Chanyeol's backpack and tapped the chair. "I have a proposal."

The boy went quietly and sat down, hands on his lap, a slight smile on his face. Baekhyun immediately liked him. It had to take courage and detachment to make such a simple gesture. Baekhyun liked the brave ones. It was what he wanted to be, completely fearless.

"I'll buy you coffee," Chanyeol said. "I already know it's going to suck, at least I pay for the mental damages."

"I think you used to have more faith in me," Baekhyun shook his head, pretending to be disgusted. "So, Jongdae, do you like girls or boys?"

"My god," Chanyeol sighed. "We will be arrested for sexual harassment."

"Whatever," Jongdae said, shrugging his shoulders. He had a nice voice. "It's not like I could choose, otherwise I wouldn't be a virgin."

"Wide options," Baekhyun tapped him on the shoulder. "I like that. The bare reality.”

"Can you get to the point?" Jongdae asked. "In theory, I'm working."

"My name is Baekhyun, this is Chanyeol, we are eighteen and we are virgins," Baekhyun spoke under Chanyeol's protesting gaze. "And we don't care about those details, either."

"We have a lot of things in common, like liking girl bands, running, dogs and not studying," Chanyeol said, counting on his fingers. “And as you can see, we don't judge. If I had any discernment, I would have gotten up and left.”

"Nice to meet you," Jongdae said. "My name is Jongdae and I even like dogs and music, but what I really love is to sleep."

"Good, good," Baekhyun said, smiling. “Well, My birthday is in a few days. Then I'll be nineteen. And I don't want to be a nineteen-year-old virgin.”

"Understandable," Chanyeol added. "I have a few months to reflect on that."

"So…?" Jongdae asked.

"So I was wondering if you don't feel like losing your virginity with us," Baekhyun said quietly. “My parents are traveling this weekend and my older brother is going to sleep at his girlfriend's house. We have time for that. My house is big and my bed is a double."

Chanyeol stretched out his entire arm and slapped Baekhyun so loudly that it could be heard downstairs.

"Are you crazy?" He spoke while Bakehyun screamed in pain. “Do you arrive out of nowhere inviting strangers for a threesome? And does it include me too? Do you know if I want to participate? Sorry, Jongdae. He's crazy. Crazy. Clueless."

“First, I know you want to, you never say no to anything I say. Second, I don't want to lose my virginity to you, okay? You are my best friend and this is depressing,” Baekhyun said, smoothing his own arm. “Now with you and more people, it's fine. Jongdae here is very handsome and friendly and he will certainly know how to admire what we have to offer.”

Jongdae was laughing. Chanyeol was a little confused.

"Look, you guys are really funny," he didn't seem offended or surprised. “I can't agree immediately, I don't know you. But it is a good proposal. Nobody even wanted to kiss me before, I'm grateful.”

"Really?" Baekhyun was confident. “Well, when are you leaving here? We can watch a movie together. It's the first step.”

"In three hours," Jongdae checked his watch. “Ah, I have to go back. Do you already know what you are going to order?”

Chanyeol opened his mouth to say something, but a figure on the stairs made Baekhyun's eyes widen. Chanyeol turned and Jongdae raised an eyebrow.

"Hello," the boy said.

"Hi, Kyungsoo," Chanyeol said immediately, looking a little pale. "Have you been there a long time...?"

"Yes," he said, walking over to the table. He was all in black, in gym-like baggy clothes. "I went up and sat on the stairs to listen."

He said it so simply that no one had an appropriate reaction.

"Anh ..." Baekhyun blinked. "Because...?"

"Because I'm eighteen and a virgin," Kyungsoo said. “But I don't know you enough to tell you that. I wanted to hear about it first.”

"Ah," Chanyeol swallowed. "Excuse us. Baekhyun has problems. He was just kidding, don't take it seriously.”

"Shut up," Baekhyun said, kicking Chanyeol under the table and turning to get a better look at Kyungsoo. "Maybe... what did you think of the proposal, huh?"

"Inappropriate," Kyungsoo said seriously and Baekhyun deflated like a balloon.

"Indeed," Chanyeol said, kicking Baekhyun back. "Did you see?"

"But I would," Kyungsoo said.

Jongdae laughed out loud.

 

 

 

[7 May 2010]

Kyungsoo watched a blurry version of himself in the mirror and he simply couldn’t believe it. He looked down and that he could see pretty well - there was a guy underneath him, face against the mattress, sweating and panting. The sheets were deep blue and his hair was brown; his skin was tan but a little red in the ass cheeks, where Kyungsoo was grabbing and pulling. He couldn’t hear anything, he couldn’t smell anything, he was overwhelmed.

“Come here,” Baekhyun said, pulling his face to kiss him. Kyungsoo heard Jongdae moaning under him and moved his hips harder. This was so confusing.

He liked the idea of sex. He knew that he was going to have sex someday but he never thought it would be this good.

He really liked it.

Chanyeol opened the door and he was hard again, like he hadn’t come just a few minutes ago and Kyungsoo was impressed and thirsty. He wanted to go down on him and so much more—

He came. It was painful and good, like finally finding the right spot to scratch, a drooling kind of feeling.

“Fuck,” Jongdae cried.

Baekhyun kissed Kyungsoo’s neck with an open mouth.

“I brought water,” Chanyeol said with big eyes. They had to hydrate after hours of boning – four teenagers fucking for the first time, of course, they didn’t care about anything else.

Kyungsoo stared at his blurred, brand new friends, and smiled.

Something had changed.

 

 

 

 

[3 February 2011]

He was waiting in the hall, holding his backpack. The students were leaving, eager to escape after the hell of a day. He had just bought the new Pac Man to play on his Wii so he just wanted to have a nice evening after the long phase of stress that came from spending his whole life so far in school. Two friends waved and he waved back, smiling brightly. Now that he was finally an adult and soon would be graduating, he deserved to have some calm days.

Kyungsoo sat down next to him so silently that he only noticed when he bumped his arm against his friend.

“Oh,” Chanyeol smiled, startled. “Hey, man. Didn’t see you there, sorry.”

“No problem,” Kyungsoo said simply. He looked sleepy and his hair was longer; sometimes he tied it in a bun right on the top of his head. For the last few months, they took the train home together, and once in a while, Kyungsoo spent the night. Chanyeol’s mother liked him and Kyungsoo lived way too far from school and the studio where he had a part-time job as an assistant.

“I bought dumb videogames,” Chanyeol said lazily. “Are you waiting for someone else?”

“Just you,” Kyungsoo said. “Baekhyun is focusing on his audition, he didn’t come today.”

“Ah, yes,” Chanyeol said. It was weird to think that he didn’t know what Baekhyun was doing. They used to be like twins. Well, school soon would be over, and soon they would lead different lives. Lately, Baekhyun was busy with vocal lessons and even piano lessons. He warned them that he would attend acting classes as soon as he graduated, and Chanyeol couldn’t imagine a worse way to spend the first months of freedom. Jongdae wasn’t much different, locked at home studying for the university entrance exam.

“Let’s go?” Kyungsoo asked, confused.

“Yes, of course.” Chanyeol stood up quickly, holding his bag. “Are you going to work?”

Kyungsoo nodded, following him. Chanyeol was walking slower so they could talk, admiring the sight that he was so used to and realizing it was about to become a memory.

“Do you like your work?” Chanyeol asked suddenly.

“Not really, but it allows me to learn a lot,” Kyungsoo said, struggling to hold his bag and a pair of thick books.

“I can hold them for you,” Chanyeol offered. Kyungsoo frowned. Chanyeol took the books from him forcefully.

“Ass,” Kyungsoo muttered, slapping him.

“I can’t stand books anymore,” Chanyeol confessed, staring at the pages full of photos. “I’ll probably fail the exam.”

“You won’t,” Kyungsoo said dryly. “You’re smart and you’re a fast learner.”

“Thanks,” Chanyeol muttered sincerely, even if he was just joking about failing – his mother’s expectations were high and he wasn’t going to disappoint her. A comfortable silence followed and Kyungsoo was the one to break it once they were standing on the train.

“Do you know what you want to study?”

Chanyeol shrugged. “I’d guess it’s Tourism.”

“Learning about places in college is different from visiting them,” Kyungsoo said wisely.

“I know, I know,” Chanyeol said. “But my parents won’t like if I choose any music-related degree.”

Kyungsoo nodded. Chanyeol didn’t ask about his choice because he knew that Kyungsoo wouldn’t even try. His family didn’t have the money to pay for another son to attend university, and he was obsessed with photography since he started his job, saving money to buy a camera. Chanyeol offered to pay, of course, but he refused.

Chanyeol was suddenly glad that he was able to see his friends growing, thinking about the future, yet he wasn’t that sure what he himself wanted. He opened one of Kyungsoo’s books to a random page and there was a beautiful picture of Jeju-do.

“We should go there,” Chanyeol said, touching the paper.

Kyungsoo stared at it, narrowing his eyes to see it better; he wasn’t wearing glasses.

“When?”

“Summer,” Chanyeol said. “Just the four of us, right? We’re adults now.”

 

 

[23 July 2011]

The first thing that Jongdae noticed when they were climbing their way out of the stones was that Baekhyun was walking oddly. Kyungsoo was following the GPS machine that Chanyeol bought for the trip only and because of that, he was too focused. Chanyeol was taking pictures with his polaroid and he seemed to be completely immersed in that. Jongdae held Baekhyun’s shirt gently.

“Are you in pain?”

Baekhyun stared at him; his dyed pink hair was glued to his forehead due to the humidity.

“My hip,” he said casually. “It’s nothing serious, I guess I’m just sore.”

Jongdae was sure that they hadn’t heard - otherwise, at least Chanyeol was going to mock Baekhyun. Jongdae walked over and leaned forward.

“Get here,” he tapped his own back. “Piggyback.”

Baekhyun giggled, happy. If Jongdae has suggested any other thing, he probably wouldn’t accept. Chanyeol turned back when he realized that they were far behind.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

Jongdae made sure that Baekhyun’s arms were comfortable around his neck and then held his legs tighter. There was a warm feeling around him, inside him. It was nice. The storming sea, the rocks, the wind against his face and having someone so close. He stared at Chanyeol’s confused face and smiled.

“That’s cool,” Chanyeol concluded. “Kyungsoo, do you want a piggyback too?”

Kyungsoo, in black and white like a lighthouse, climbed a large rock and stared at something far away.

“No,” he said dryly. “We should hurry. The sun is setting.”

He was against the sunlight, shinning quietly. It looked like a painting, the way he held the tiny machine with his eyes narrowed, always seeing things a bit deeper than the rest of them.

“Fine,” Chanyeol clapped. “Come on, guys.”

Baekhyun rubbed his nose on Jongdae’s shoulder.

“Thank you.”

 

 

[15 March 2012]

Jongdae got the towels when he left the room. He lost track of time after a couple of days. They traveled but they didn’t get enough money to go out more than once a day, so they always waited until the sunset. He could hear the noises back in the room, yet he didn’t feel exactly horny. He was tired and overwhelmed, unused to all that sexual activity. He felt a bit embarrassed to say that he had enough, so he was focusing on helping them.

When he got back, Chanyeol had come all over the bed. Kyungsoo was still pounding into him slowly, holding his hips carefully, but Baekhyun moved away, leaving a trail of cum down Chanyeol’s chin. That was the only way he liked, when everyone went on him the same time because he was exaggerated and starving for it.

Jongdae waited until it was over to sit on the bed. Baekhyun glared at him.

“Don’t fucking leave,” he said breathily.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m tired.”

He gave a towel to Kyungsoo, who thanked him with a peck on the lips. Jongdae giggled. Baekhyun accepted one towel and started wiping Chanyeol’s face; Chanyeol was boneless and exhausted, of course.

“I’m going to change the bed sheets,” Kyungsoo said. “Go take a shower.”

It was directed to the three of them, so he and Baekhyun had to help Chanyeol to get up.

“Keep the things inside your asshole,” Baekhyun mocked. “Lock it up.”

Chanyeol showed him the tongue but then walked like a penguin before sitting on the toilet, which made them laugh so hard that Kyungsoo popped up at the door to check if they were okay.

Jongdae kept staring at the colors of the sky while Baekhyun scrubbed his back. There was a tiny window in the bathroom and that was enough for him.

“Can you hear this song?” Baekhyun asked. It sounded like Kyungsoo.

 

 

[24 June 2012]

Chanyeol climbed the stairs slowly, humming a song. Baekhyun’s new place was cramped, starting with the stairs. Chanyeol was late but he was sure that no one would mind. The last time they were all together was in March, when they went to Dubai. Since then, even if they lived in the same city, the group chat was the only place where the four could talk. Chanyeol still saw Kyungsoo often, mostly because he liked to include himself in his photography gigs and Kyungsoo didn’t deny him that small pleasure. Since Baekhyun started auditioning for musicals, they met a few times to rehearse and talk about music, sometimes about their personal lives. Jongdae was swallowed by his university life and he didn’t leave home unless it was an emergency – and the reason Chanyeol was so suspicious about this meeting was that Jongdae himself asked them to meet (at Baekhyun’s apartment, since he was the only one living alone).

Chanyeol knocked on the red door with lots of charms hanging on it and a doormat with a HELLO in English.

“Can you open the door?” Baekhyun asked. Chanyeol tried to, but he was probably talking to Kyungsoo, the one who opened it.

“Hey,” Kyungsoo nodded. “Come in.”

Chanyeol dropped his backpack on the floor and smiled. They were sitting on the floor, right on the carpet that Baekhyun stole from his brother’s house. Chanyeol turned around, analyzing every corner of the room.

“I really like this wallpaper, though I think you could put a nice counter here and get yourself a bar.” Chanyeol took off his shoes. “I would reorganize the plants, too. Flowers on the balcony or the table…”

“Have you been watching those home décor series again?” Baekhyun said, giving him a beer. He looked sleepy, still wearing pajamas.

“Maybe." Chanyeol sat down, beer in hand. “I’m thinking about changing majors.”

“Again?” Kyungsoo frowned. His new glasses were small and had black frames; he looked like an intellectual.

“Yeah, that’s life, man,” he laughed. “What were you guys talking about?”

Baekhyun joined them and stretched his neck.

“Videogames, basically.”

Jongdae was leaning on a pile of pillows, wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and white socks. He didn’t change much, the same as always, drinking his coffee and smiling gently.

“I’m trying to get them to play new games,” Baekhyun said. “But it’s hard, I think.”

“Shouldn’t you be busy with other things?” Kyungsoo asked.

“Some people don’t have one-track minds like you, man,” Chanyeol argued. “We need to have fun, too.”

“I use videogames to destress, to take a breath for once,” Baekhyun explained. “You should try. You look very stressed.”

“I’m not,” Kyungsoo said. “I stopped taking classes because they’re boring.”

“I thought it was because you didn’t like to take classes.” Jongdae was curious and he nudged Kyungsoo’s thigh with his feet. Kyungsoo grabbed it and shook it playfully.

“If they’re practical, I like them,” Kyungsoo answered like only he could: synthesizing everything in a few words. He was learning with actual photographers, like short courses everywhere.

“Do you guys want to go to my brother’s wedding?” Baekhyun asked suddenly. “I mean, it’s boring but you know… free food.”

“Are you going to sing?” Kyungsoo asked.

“Of course,” Baekhyun snorted. “That’s my only contribution, I guess.”

“If you know how expensive those things are, you wouldn’t say it like it’s nothing,” Chanyeol laughed. “Just because you’re a theater kid now, don’t think that other musicians are cheap.”

“Shut up,” he retorted.

“Jongdae,” Kyungsoo yawned. “Can you tell us why we’re here?”

Jongdae stopped moving, surprised. He sat up straight and moved his shoulders, trying to relax.

“I have good news.”

“Really?” Chanyeol pouted, suspicious.

“Yes,” Jongdae nodded. “I want you guys to be the first ones to know about it.”

They went quiet after that. Chanyeol loved having sex and affection, but he had to admit that the biggest thrill about their relationship was the fact that he was so important to them. They had that secret, but more than that they had loyalty and trust. Chanyeol was wanted and loved, and he was hungry for that.

“I just received an email confirming that I was selected,” he said, looking in their eyes, one by one. “I got a full scholarship.”

It was good news. Yet Chanyeol knew why they were taking so long to react.

“Beijing?” Baekhyun asked, gulping.

“Yes,” Jongdae smiled, unaffected by their silence. “The classes start in February.”

“Congratulations,” Kyungsoo smiled unenthusiastically. “I… I’m happy that you got it.”

Baekhyun mumbled ‘congratulations’ and Chanyeol knew that he was only doing that because it was Jongdae. He wouldn’t be happy if Chanyeol and Kyungsoo escaped, yet Jongdae’s situation wasn’t good. He was overworking to pay his bills and he needed a scholarship – his best shot was to leave the country.

“Ah, it’s nice that you’re happy,” Chanyeol confessed. “But I don’t want you to leave, so it still hurts.”

He couldn’t lie. The past years were good because they were together. He didn’t want to lose what they had.

“Nothing is going to change,” Jongdae smiled sadly. “It’s not like I’m being present right now. At least there, I’ll have the time and money. We can still travel together.”

“And we will,” Baekhyun said firmly. “Even if we don’t leave the country, I don’t mind. But we have to be just the four of us again.”

“He’s not dying,” Kyungsoo said, and Chanyeol resisted the urge to smack him. He was just repressing his sadness, as always.

“I’ll be here any time you need,” Jongdae promised. “Also, we have ways to communicate. We live in a modern age? You can talk to me.”

“I wanna kiss you, that’s the main problem,” Chanyeol teased. “You can’t do that with Skype.”

When they traveled, it was easy. Chanyeol knew it very well - the physical displacement led to psychological changes. It was simple to feel like you weren’t yourself when you were away. He had felt it tons of times, the feeling of dreaming, accessing another reality. Easy to grab your friends and fuck them, too. Now they were four adults inside an empty apartment with no obstacles to having sex and yet they were frozen.

“You will,” Jongdae said. “Don’t worry.”

Chanyeol sighed loud and crawled to Jongdae, hands, and knees on the carpet. He just fell on Jongdae’s body, laughing. Jongdae was giggling and Chanyeol held his face to kiss him.

They had a couple of rules but well, who cared? It wasn’t just sex, it was a whole experience, and they would probably go slower when Jongdae moved out; they were supposed to seize this opportunity.

“Not on my carpet, assholes,” Baekhyun complained. “I have a bed for that.”

 

 

[January 13, 2013]

Baekhyun went up and down the stairs searching for a more stable signal. The internet wasn't good and he was afraid of accidentally disconnecting from the videoconference.

"I swear to god, Kyungsoo," Chanyeol's face was now almost noticeable in one of the squares. "If you don't leave the house even a day after your birthday, I don't even know what I'm going to do—"

"I'm going to make dinner here at home," Jongdae said, his voice a little distant, their faces dark on the screen. “There will be a cake, candles, ballons and adult food. If you get there on time, you can still eat a little.”

"When will it be?" Baekhyun gave up and sat in the middle of the stairs. "The dinner date, I mean."

"On Saturday," Jongdae said, laughing. "In the middle of the week I can't prepare anything."

"It won't be a party," Kyungsoo clarified quickly. "I'm just going to take my parents and my brother."

"Are your parents going?" Chanyeol was offended - Baekhyun knew from the tone of his voice. “Oh, no, I'm going to change my flight to Friday. I will not let you introduce Jongdae as your boyfriend.”

Jongdae laughed and Baekhyun looked down, where his phone was on the table, still vibrating with the messages. It was almost four months old and he still hadn't had the courage to say it. He would be the first - which was not surprising since his job was to get things started. He was also the oldest, so he should have that right.

"My mom and Jongdae's mom are friends," Kyungsoo explained, sounding tired of this whole conversation. “I've said this a lot of times. Nobody thinks he's my boyfriend.”

"He's literally having your birthday party at his house," Chanyeol argued.

"And?" Baekhyun could see Kyungsoo's eyebrow lift, even though the image was so dark.

"I hate to disturb the pointless discussion," Baekhyun coughed. "But I'm dating."

He didn't quite know what to expect, but three incredulous guys weren't at the top of the list of possible reactions. Chanyeol was even making a disgusted expression.

"With a person?" Jongdae asked. "Like, a person ... real person... besides us?"

"Yeah, a girl," Baekhyun said, his sweating hands holding the laptop. “I mean, a woman. She is older than me.”

"You're dating," Kyungsoo sounded really confused. "Does she know that she's dating you?"

"Of course she does," Baekhyun took a deep breath. “I will go out with her later. We've been together for four months.”

"Four months," Chanyeol was gaping. “And you only tell us now? I tell you every time I bang someone.”

"And nobody wants to know, nobody asked," Jongdae rolled his eyes (almost affectionately). "I thought you were traveling for work, Baekhyun."

"She's in the musical too," he said quietly, even though no one could hear in that old house. "I'm staying with her family."

"Has the family already been introduced ...?" Kyungsoo now sounded like an interrogator. "And she wasn't introduced to us all?"

"I didn't even know we could date, honestly speaking," Chanyeol rubbed his face. "I mean, we don't have a contract preventing it, of course, but ..."

"Does this cancel our mid-year trip?" Jongdae sounded concerned. "I've been starving here to save money."

"Hey, hey, hey, calm down," Baekhyun almost shouted. “First, I only know her mother, the house is empty. Second, everyone can date, this is not marriage, no. And lastly, no, not at all. Our time together is sacred to me!”

"But..." the internet decided to work and now Baekhyun could see Chanyeol's confused face perfectly. "And ... do we ... are we going to ...?"

The hand gesture was a little scandalous, but if it wasn't like that, it wouldn't be Chanyeol.

"Yes," Baekhyun shrugged. "Why not?"

"Is your girlfriend aware of this?" Kyungsoo didn't relax for even a second. "Or don't you intend to continue the relationship until then?"

Jongdae was just watching.

"I see one thing as different from the other," Baekhyun sighed. “I only see you once a year. It's not like you're my lovers or anything. By that logic, she would be the other one.”

"It's a very elegant way of saying that you are going to cheat on someone," Chanyeol grunted. “Look, not bringing any STDs, this is not my problem. But it’s not right, no, no, no.”

"I agree," Kyungsoo said.

"I don't remember asking for anyone's opinion," Baekhyun frowned. "Especially because one day you will also be dating and you will only get rid of me in the next incarnation if you are lucky."

“I recognize that we shouldn't be getting into your relationship,” Jongdae said suddenly, “but since you got on the subject, I think we should think about ours.”

"Think?" Kyungsoo asked cautiously. "Be more precise."

"Well, Baekhyun said something quite right," Jongdae shook his head. “One day I will want to have someone as my partner. What's up? How do I explain what we are… or were we? ”

"Friends," Kyungsoo didn't even blink. "We're friends."

"It's not that simple," Chanyeol sighed too close to the microphone. “I kind of feel like I have someone… you. It's not just friendship, right? I love you. If I like someone else, it won't be the same.”

There was a minute of silence that seemed to pay respect to the weight of the sentence.

"If I ever have to explain," Baekhyun unconsciously looked at the phone. “I will say that I love you. I don't want anyone to think it's just a thing, you know? I love you and you come first."

 

 

 

[28 February 2013]

After a month, his apartment was completely different due to his efforts and his efforts only. The landlord seemed uninterested in fixing anything or making it look better as if the cheap rent could excuse every little problem. Jongdae didn’t know a single soul in the city and the classes had started just a couple of days before.

He sat on his almost-good couch that wasn’t that expensive and checked his phone. They gave his number to a Korean student and a few Chinese guys that knew how to speak his language. The women in the registration section was chatty and she shared that most of them dreamed of becoming trainees and that’s why they knew how to speak Korean. Jongdae laughed, thinking about how they probably looked like: rich, superficial and good looking.

“Isn’t it everyone’s dream?” She laughed.  

He didn’t have that particular ambition. He told her that he knew how to sing, but he didn’t have the looks.

“You just need money,” she said.

Jongdae never had much money, that was the problem. He started working as a teenager and he couldn’t even believe when he got a scholarship to study abroad. Now that he was finally doing what he always wanted to, it was exhausting.

“I’m happy,” he declared.

He had two messages.

 

 kim_min (KR): hey newbie, warn me when you’re on the campus, we have a meeting.

 

l.a.y: hello

 

It seemed that the students got his number, the chatty lady kept her promise. Jongdae left his house to take care of the front garden, suffering in the cold weather. He swore that he would buy new flowers when spring arrived, he just had to wait a little more. He was going to keep himself busy so he didn’t have to miss his family and friends.

The chatty lady asked his age and if he had a girlfriend. Jongdae laughed nervously.

“I've never dated, I’m waiting for the right person,” he said and she was impressed. Jongdae thought about how chaotic his romantic life was; there was a polaroid taken by Chanyeol next to his bed with the four of them. Baekhyun is on Jongdae’s back, Kyungsoo is standing next to them and Chanyeol is trying to hug everyone with an arm only.

It didn’t matter how hard his life was, in the end, Jongdae would have them and at least, once in a year, he would love and be loved.

 

 

[01 October 2013]

Chanyeol loved his part-time job. Most of his friends were working at the university or in terrible and cheap Architecture offices since they were still in their first year. Chanyeol had just changed to Interior Design and he wasn’t in a hurry to get too involved, so when a friend offered him a job as a bartender in one of the coolest pubs in the city, he said yes in a heartbeat. It fit him well and he even got to perform when they had no one on the tight schedule. He met new people, watched good bands playing live, and had fun.

They had one drag queen show, once a month. For some reason, the place was full of women, instead of the greasy wannabe music critics that often were around with their band shirts. The drags were also nice and funny and it was probably the best night for him when he could relax for a second while everyone was paying attention to the performers. Most people weren’t there to get drunk or get numbers, just to see the Drag show, but it was the perfect night for Chanyeol to get numbers.

Some drags were into fashion or lip-syncing, but that night it was definitely a stand-up comedian. Chanyeol didn’t watch it, though. He was interested in a group of girls that were sitting in the corner, barely drinking. They were definitely the most beautiful women he had ever seen (besides his sister, of course).

They didn’t get to talk to them that night but he was lucky when they came back to watch a rock band. He couldn’t believe it when he saw them walking in again, all in black. One of them had blonde, almost white hair and she got his attention, so he prayed that she was the one to ask for drinks.

God listened to him.

“Hey.” She approached during the break, hands on the counter, showing her long pink nails. “Can you get me two Heinekens and one Stella, please?”

“Of course,” Chanyeol said and he grabbed the ones inside the fridge, so he could flex his arms. He was slowly becoming a gym rat and it was paying off. He put four bottles in front of her, adding an extra Stella.

She stared at it, confused for a second, and then smiled.

“Juhyun is gay, Sooyoung is taken, and Seulgi is never interested,” she said.

“What?” Chanyeol was lost. “Who?”

“My friends.” She pointed without looking back. “That’s nice but it won’t work.”

Chanyeol smiled.

“It’s for you,” he tilted his head. “Do you drink?”

She gaped and looked over her shoulder before answering.

“I do, but not today, I’m driving,” she gulped. “I… prefer Budweiser.”

Chanyeol pouted almost involuntarily.

“Thank you so much, really.” She seemed nervous, pushing the extra beer away. “I… I’m sorry. It’s nice…”

“That’s fine. Can I have your number?” Chanyeol asked slowly and clearly before she panicked.

She stared at him, shocked. She had glitter in her eyes and looked adorable that surprised.

“Of course, I… I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.” She touched her tiny bag’s strap. “I’m not used to… you know… tall hot guys flirting with me… when I’m with my model friends.”

“Really? Their loss… Not even a minute and I got an ego stroke.” Chanyeol laughed aloud, scratching his neck. “Which is my kink, definitely. I love praise. What’s your name?”

“Seungwan,” she said, smiling. “Everyone calls me Wendy.”

She lived abroad, he realized. He noticed something different about the way she spoke.

“Chanyeol,” he winked. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She covered her face with both hands, embarrassed.

“Sorry.” She shook her head, trying to compose herself. “I’ll take the beers and then I’ll come back. I need a minute.”

“I’ll be here,” Chanyeol said simply.

 

 

 

[13 October 2013]

Baekhyun’s singing was heard through the walls, loud and clear, as he was warming his voice. Jongdae brought a few boxes down with Chanyeol’s help. Since Chanyeol started working out, he was trying to show off, so while Jongdae carried one box at a time, he carried three.

“I’m barely sweating,” Chanyeol declared, rubbing his dirty hand down his white t-shirt.

“Good for you,” Jongdae stopped to breathe. “Don’t ruin your clothes, please. We won’t have time to change.”

The theater was too far from their places and it was the rush hour. Jongdae looked around and coughed a little. The curtains were dusty and unused; the chairs need a good cleaning.

“I’ll put the boxes on the stage,” Chanyeol said, reading Jongdae’s mind.

“I’ll clean what I can,” he nodded. “How long until it starts?”

“Two hours and a half,” Chanyeol was messing with his short, red hair. Jongdae fought the impulse of holding his arm down and started looking for a duster. In his way, he found the spot where Baekhyun was sitting, just a box on the backstage.

“Why are you here?” Jongdae asked, walking carefully to him since it was darker there.

“The girls are changing in the dressing room,” he grabbed a water bottle. “Sorry for bothering you.”

He sounded sincere, maybe too tired, breathing too fast. It was the first time that his acting group was presenting a play by themselves. They thought they could make an original musical, only by joining forces and crowdfunding. It worked in the beginning, but just a week before, the money had vanished with little details, so friends and family had to step in. Baekhyun was so excited in the beginning, talking incessantly about it, then getting quieter as the time went by. Jongdae knew that if he wasn’t such a persistent person, he would have given up by now. The musical had only ten people, counting every actor and staff.

“It’s not bothering me at all,” Jongdae smiled. “It’s nice to get a taste of the show business life. Look at me, I’m a musical's staff.”

Baekhyun smiled back and even in the dark, Jongdae knew that happy-but-sad look.

“Go,” Baekhyun said. “We both have things to do.”

Jongdae followed his advice and found the duster near the backdoor. The theater wasn’t that big, so he just needed a minute to walk all the way back. He found Kyungsoo sitting on the stairs leading to the stage, maneuvering a tripod that he carried with him sometimes. He was a professional photographer now, certificate and a whole (small) studio for him. Things were always fast when it came to Kyungsoo.

Jongdae stopped next to him, but Kyungsoo was completely focused in that machine. That was the way he was every little second of the day: focused, going straight to the point.

“Hey.”

Kyungsoo looked up.

“Hey,” he smiled and, as always, lips formed a plushy red heart. “Is everything okay?”

“For now,” Jongdae squatted to take a better look at him. “Are those new glasses?”

“Yes,” he touched the silver frames before standing up, inverting their positions. “You’re free to go.”

Jongdae smiled, thinking how they all did the same thing. Giving space, letting him do what he needed – that was their way to say that they were okay that he left the country. Not by saying on his face but with small, recurring acts. When Jongdae accepted the interchange offer a year ago, they weren’t that complacent.

The musical was okay. Low attendance, that was for sure, but they made the most of such a critical situation. Jongdae enjoyed every second, even Chanyeol’s impressed gasps next to his ear. To celebrate the play, they took Baekhyun out for dinner: pizza. Chanyeol drove them to the nearest place still open and Baekhyun was so exhausted that he was almost sleeping on Kyungsoo’s shoulder, sprayed on the backseat. There was just one table and they took it, covering the whole surface with plates and cups.

“I really, really loved the music effects,” Chanyeol said, still munching. “The creativity… another level, really.”

“Creativity is a nice way to say we had to improvise,” Baekhyun nodded. He wasn’t just tired, he was disappointed too.

“You sang and acted well,” Jongdae said, caressing his shoulder, even if he knew that Baekhyun didn’t like it when Jongdae complimented his singing. You could sing better, Baekhyun always retorted, somehow hurt due to Jongdae’s indifference to music.

“It was great,” Chanyeol said, a bit angry. “Stop being so mean to yourself. One day you’ll get a full audience and people complaining at the door because they didn’t get in.”

Baekhyun tried to smile. Kyungsoo, next to him, just held his hand on the table, a silent reassuring. Because they were too close, Baekhyun leaned to kiss him, a simple reflex; Kyungsoo leaned back, noticing it. At this point, it wasn’t awkward anymore.

“I’m dating,” Chanyeol said simply.

They stared at him in silence. He took off his phone and showed them a picture of four girls. Kyungsoo held the phone closer and then gave it to Baekhyun.

“Seungwan, everyone calls her Wendy,” he explained. “She lives in Canada and she’s just visiting her friends. We met at a rock concert last month, she’s the best.”

“Why are you dating someone that’s just visiting?” Kyungsoo seemed curious.

“Which one of them?” Baekhyun asked, fixing his posture. “They’re all really hot.”

Jongdae smiled awkwardly.

“She’s the cutest one,” Chanyeol said proudly, a bit red. “She’s great at every single thing. She’s like a prodigious person, I don’t know. And she’s the sweetest too, that’s why I’m dating her.”

Baekhyun pointed to a girl with long black hair.

“This one? She’s looks unreal, man,” he sounded truly impressed.

“No,” Chanyeol said. “That’s Juhyun. She’s the one wearing a long black dress.”

Baekhyun turned the phone back to inspect and Kyungsoo and Jongdae leaned closer to take a look.

“Listen, all of them are pretty and hot,” Baekhyun sighed. “But if it was a competition, your girl would be in the last place, I mean…”

Chanyeol gaped. Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh; it was cute how fast he reacted to everything, how easily it was to read his emotions.

“Shut up,” he took his phone back, angry. “She’s the prettiest in the whole world.”

“She’s very charming,” Jongdae agreed, still smiling. “Don’t get mad, Chanyeol. We’re sure that she’s amazing.”

“You must really like her,” Kyungsoo observed, the cup covering half of his face while he was sipping.

It was clear that Chanyeol wasn’t the dating type and maybe that was the reason why they weren’t even jealous, just surprised. But Chanyeol always had news, always had something that he was really into, so it wasn’t that unexpected. After Baekhyun’s shocking dating news, they got used to it. Jongdae looked around and thought that it was the right moment to announce that he was also dating. Though, he knew, they would react differently.

But he didn’t.

“When are you going back, Jongdae?” Kyungsoo asked, ignoring Chanyeol’s pout and bad mood.

“In a few days,” Jongdae said. “I leave on Sunday morning, my brother will take me to the airport.”

“What are you guys doing tomorrow?” Baekhyun asked, stealing the last slice in front of their eyes – not that anyone would deny him that small pleasure, especially that night.

“Working,” Kyungsoo said.

“Helping Kyungsoo to work,” Chanyeol pointed. “He asked me to help with the studio, get ready for the first Park Chanyeol’s Interior Design work.”

“Did you give up on the music career already?” Jongdae mocked.

“I’ll have many careers,” Chanyeol said, his fork dangerously close to Baekhyun’s pizza. “As many as I can get.”

“Finish one thing before you start the other,” Kyungsoo punched him playfully. It didn’t take long until Baekhyun and Chanyeol started fighting for pizza, so they had to ask for another one before they left. On the way out, Baekhyun held Jongdae’s arm and smiled at him.

“Thank you,” he said. “You’re the best.”

“You’re the best,” Jongdae retorted.

“You’re not telling them?” Baekhyun asked, almost whispering.

“Not yet,” Jongdae said. “I’ll wait until it becomes truly official.”

Baekhyun shrugged.

 

 

 

[27 November 2013]

He moved to his side and found Baekhyun’s body glued to his. It was a cold, busy autumn outside and for the first time, Chanyeol had the final word (since his birthday) in picking the place. Outside of the beautiful glass wall was New York.

It was a huge effort to get them all to go. He had to call a few friends to get them a free place to stay (a nice flat), talk to his parents and ask them to pay for his tickets so he could use the money to make them more comfortable. Actually, Chanyeol even took out some savings from his account that was supposed to cover some university fees in the future.

“Good morning,” he said, voice rough from the long night.

Baekhyun opened his eyes slowly. The bedsheets were white and soft and it was really hard to leave the bed. There was no wall between the rooms, so Chanyeol could see Kyungsoo cooking in the other corner and Jongdae sitting on the couch, checking his tablet, both just in shirts and underwear.

“Happy birthday,” Baekhyun mumbled. “Do I have morning breath?”

“Absolutely,” Chanyeol said. “Like I care.”

Jongdae smiled, looking at them.

“Happy twenty-first!”

“Twenty-two,” Chanyeol frowned. “Oh, wait. We’re in the States. It’s twenty-one, right?”

“Do you want an omelet or pancakes?” Kyungsoo asked, staring at the frying pan. Baekhyun turned to hug Chanyeol, rubbing his face on Chanyeol’s shoulder like a cat.

“I thought we were going to eat out,” Chanyeol frowned. “Come on, we can get pancakes there, you don’t have to cook.”

“We can go later,” Jongdae said. “Let’s enjoy a little, just the four of us.”

“I’ll have to leave before lunchtime.” Chanyeol threw his head back and stared at the clock on the wall.

No one said anything, so he looked back.

“What?”

“I thought that you were joking?” Baekhyun asked. “I mean, are you serious about it?”

“Why would I lie about going to Canada for a day?” Chanyeol licked his lips, a bit confused. “I mean, I’ll be back tomorrow, guys. I put it on the schedule.”

“He did,” Kyungsoo said quietly. He was the only one who read the schedule before the trip and he often changed Chanyeol’s plans. Not this time, so he must have been fully aware.

Baekhyun pushed him and rolled to the other side of the bed.

“That’s…” Jongdae said. “Today is your birthday. We didn’t think you would spend it away from us, we’re here together.”

“I can’t believe this shit,” Baekhyun sat up and grabbed his underwear on the floor. “You brought us here just to have an excuse to go after your girlfriend. Damn, I feel like a whore.”

“No, I didn’t.” Chanyeol sat up too. “I always wanted to see that city, come on!”

Baekhyun was dressing angrily, ignoring him.

“Ah, Chanyeol,” Jongdae sighed. “That’s fucked up. We have rules. You can’t see other people when we’re together.”

“Tell them what you’re going to do there or they won’t leave you alone,” Kyungsoo said, still cooking like nothing happened. “I can’t defend you, anyway.”

Chanyeol stared at Baekhyun’s pissed-off expression and pushed his hair back.

“People, I’ll tell you I have a good reason to go there,” he said. “It’s not like I’m ditching you guys, please listen.”

Baekhyun turned to him, still angry. Jongdae put the tablet on his lap. Kyungsoo kept cooking.

“I’m thinking about moving to Canada,” Chanyeol said. “I promised her I would come on my birthday so I could take a look at the place.”

“Oh,” Jongdae mumbled.

“You’re moving in with a girl that you met, like, last month,” Baekhyun asked slowly. “And you thought we would be relieved by that?”

“It’s not because of her,” Chanyeol said exasperatedly. “I’m moving out because I want to.”

“Good for you,” Baekhyun spat. “Now go there, asshole. God, I regret sucking your dick.”

“Chanyeol… that may not be the best idea. Don’t you think that you’re rushing… a little?” Jongdae said.

Baekhyun walked all the way to Kyungsoo and back-hugged him like a spoiled child. Kyungsoo wasn’t a fan of people touching him while he was cooking and he was tolerating it in solidarity, probably. He was the first to know and he didn’t exactly support Chanyeol’s decision, just… didn’t say a word about it.

“This is not about Wendy, I mean, she helped me figure out something that was bothering me a lot, okay, that I was really just jumping from thing to thing.” He gulped and pulled the sheets up to cover himself, just to get a little more credibility. “I was so annoyed and since I graduated, I’ve been trying to find common ground with my parent’s wishes, but I can’t. Everyone in my family is very successful and I’m not. Yet. If I stay with them, they’ll pressure me into doing another fucking thing that I don’t like and I have to say yes, because well…”

“Hmmm,” Jongdae mumbled. “And what if this is just another ‘thing’ too?”

“It’s not,” Chanyeol said. “I have a feeling. I know people around there, I can make it work. I’m done with college, I’ll keep on doing music… and if I’m wrong, well, then, I’ll go back to the start, but at least I didn’t fight my intuition this time.”

Baekhyun was still holding Kyungsoo, who was pouring coffee absently.

“I understand,” Jongdae nodded. “You know what’s best for you, Chanyeol. I just wished you could find another date to do that.”

“From now on, I guess you guys will have to share me,” Chanyeol said seriously. “Like we do with Baekhyun.”

“I would never do something like that,” Baekhyun mumbled.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae said softly. “Today is his day, let him spend it how he wants to.”

“Put it on the table,” Kyungsoo ordered, probably to all of them, showing off the beautiful pancakes with a tiny amount of butter on top. “Where’s the honey?”

Baekhyun let him go and Jongdae helped them set the table. Chanyeol decided to at least put on underwear before joining them. They had exactly four chairs, plus the table wasn’t big enough to avoid leg touching.

“Sorry, guys,” Chanyeol said, sensing that he ruined the breakfast and their mood. “I didn’t want it to look like I was choosing to leave you, I wanted to include you in this moment… in my head, it would be a great way to make everyone happy.”

“I don’t think it’s a smart move,” Kyungsoo said, holding his mug. “But I’m not against it. It’s fine.”

“Thanks,” Chanyeol said. “Tomorrow I’ll be here again and we can go out and pretend that we’re the girls from Sex and the City.”

Baekhyun was eating slowly, not looking at him. Jongdae poked him since Chanyeol wasn’t going to.

“I’m mad so don’t expect me to say something nice right now.” Baekhyun rolled his eyes. “You’re going to the other side of the world and Jongdae is also living abroad, OK, give me a break, I don’t wanna lose you all. It always feels like I’m losing a piece of me.”

Chanyeol was touched.

“Hey, I love you,” he said.

“Love doesn’t make people stay,” Baekhyun said, sinking the fork into the pile of pancakes. “Love is just a feeling.”

 

 

 

 

[29 November 2013]

“You’re cheating,” Chanyeol accused Jongdae for the tenth time.

Jongdae tried to say no but he could only shake his head while laughing loudly. Kyungsoo loved the sound of his laugh, it was delicious to hear.

Chanyeol threw his cards on the table and stood up, angry. He had already done that a few times before, but he wasn’t going to give up until he won a match. Kyungsoo rubbed his nose in Baekhyun’s hair and it smelled like meat since he insisted on eating in a famous steakhouse. They had come back home and had sex and there was only one bathroom with a tiny bath and shower inside the flat so it had to be one at a time if they wanted to clean themselves. Baekhyun slept without a shower, no doubt, he didn't even move after.

“Wash your hair,” Kyungsoo said, caressing his arms. Baekhyun looked up, rubbing the back of his head on Kyungsoo’s chest, splayed on the couch in his underwear.

“Why are you giving me orders?” he frowned. “You’re the baby here, my baby.”

“Your hair stinks,” Kyungsoo said. “It reeks of meat.”

“I thought you loved meat.” Baekhyun grabbed his hand and held it. “It’s a nice smell.”

“It feels greasy,” he argued. Chanyeol screamed this is the last time and sat on his chair again while Jongdae was still laughing.

“It’s hydrated. You wouldn’t know it because you barely have hair,” Baekhyun said.

“What if I wash your hair, then?” Kyungsoo suggested.

Baekhyun smiled.

“Kyungsoo is going to wash my hair,” he announced proudly.

“It’s about time,” Jongdae said while staring at his cards. “We’ll go out later and we have to look presentable.”

“We’ll only leave after I kick your ass,” Chanyeol was still angry. “Don’t worry, I’ll win soon.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Jongdae said.

Kyungsoo took Baekhyun to the bathroom. He chose the shampoo, a nice soft towel and coconut oil before helping his friend to kneel before the bath. He wanted warm water; it was cold outside and even if they could be comfortably naked in the flat, cold water wouldn’t be nice.

Fingers on his scalp, knees on the floor. The entire world outside was a bit quieter.

 

 

 

 

[14 February 2014]

He noticed that a group was waiting for him behind the glass door.

Kyungsoo had to hug everyone on his way to the studio. They were nice to him; someone even brought a whole cake and he didn’t even have time to read the card and thank the sender. They were happy that he was again nominated but they also had a deadline and the staff was ready to work.

It was the third month working for a fashion magazine and Kyungsoo knew that, despite being a talented photographer, he was there because he was nominated for the unseen talent award and, despite not winning, he was the only South Korean to be on the list and – this point was extensively described in the interviews he gave – he was only twenty-one and had no art or photography degree or exhibitions to his name. They even called him an amateur when Kyungsoo was earning his money with that. His rural Korean districts series impressed a bunch of journalists, but a fashion editor found the pictures he took in Dubai, mostly Chanyeol and Baekhyun posing with their generally expensive clothing.

Working with magazines was oddly stressful for the most random reasons. Models on their periods, someone was late, a new subject arose, they needed a few famous faces. Everything was about selling, promoting, influencing… Kyungsoo had a realistic, crude perspective that helped the pictorials and yet he felt annoyed by how fake everything was.

Junmyeon walked in during the break.

“Happy Valentine’s day, finalist,” he announced with a big smile. “I can’t believe it!”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Kyungsoo warned. “It’s a European prize, I doubt they would give it to me.”

“Money and an exhibition.” He ignored Kyungsoo’s pessimism. “I bet if you get the award, they’ll give something here, too, just to say that they totally knew that we had impressive newcomers in this country. Can you imagine talking to the president?”

This time, Kyungsoo was the one to ignore him. They had become good friends despite their working relationship. Kyungsoo made friends easily in his own area but the fashion industry was only interested in money, sex, and influence. Sometimes drugs.

“Do we have more photoshoots this week?” Kyungsoo asked. “I need to work in my studio.”

“I’m waiting for an actress to confirm,” he sighed, dusting off his pearl silk shirt. “Terrible management. They keep trying to put newer ones in her place no matter how much we ask for a famous one.”

“What’s it this time?” Kyungsoo asked absently, checking the lights. The models were drinking water and chatting; Kyungsoo eyed the tall model discreetly.

“Cartier,” Junmyeon said. “Watches for women. They liked her last role as an entrepreneur, so, you know. She was number one on the list.”

“Good,” he mumbled.

“Did you have a good time with that drummer that you were talking to?” Junmyeon asked, noticing the reason why Kyungsoo was distracted. “All those models have a 'sponsor', don’t even look at him.”

“I have to,” Kyungsoo said, pretending that he was taking it seriously. “How can I take pictures without looking?”

Junmyeon laughed and punched him.

“The drummer was fine,” Kyungsoo informed him, as always. They talked about their personal lives since they didn’t have close friends to open up to about dating men. The drummer was a guy that he met during Chanyeol’s work farewell party before his friend went to Canada. Kyungsoo waited a month to be sure that Chanyeol and the drummer weren’t friends – there was no rule about hooking up with friends but Kyungsoo didn’t want Chanyeol knowing about his sex life.

“He looked fine,” Junmyeon agreed. “But you’re not talking to that guy that I introduced you—stop staring at him, for God’s sake, they think that you hate them, not that you’re lusting after them.”

“I’m not interested,” Kyungsoo said sincerely. “I don’t mix work and personal life.”

He didn’t mix anything. He liked his life organized – if possible, in boxes.

“Didn’t you have a thing with Kim Jongin like… last month?” The editor stared at him in disbelief.

Someone walked in to ask about a cable and they changed the subject until the guy left.

“He’s an actor, he doesn’t work here,” Kyungsoo argued.

“He’s on every magazine cover, it’s a matter of time before he comes back,” his friend said. “Rumor has it that Gucci wants him. And we always have Gucci in our pictorials.”

“I don’t care.” Kyungsoo stretched his neck. “He doesn’t like me, I think. He got mad because I was dismissive after sex and he even slammed my door on the way out.”

“He’s temperamental, like most actors out there,” Junmyeon said. “Those drama guys think that everyone wants to suck their dick for free.”

Kyungsoo snorted, unused to such talking. It was good to talk to someone this way; between his friends, they didn’t share much about their personal lives. Too bad that their break was short and Kyungsoo still had to sit with the crew to edit the pictures. Junmyeon was busy and he had a rich, adventurous lifestyle, traveling around the world with his boyfriends.

He had great traveling suggestions; recently he had traveled to Chile.

“Win that award, get the money, and travel somewhere,” he said before leaving. “In the summer, South America is the best.”

Kyungsoo kept that. On his way home inside a cab, he opened the cake’s box and finally read that card.

Sorry for last time and congratulations! Let’s meet again this Friday.  – KJI

“They always come back,” Kyungsoo muttered to himself, almost bored.

 

 

 

[23 February 2014]

Kyungsoo tapped the nightstand until he found his glasses and proceeded to put them on his face so he could see the ceiling better. He hadn’t moved for a few minutes because the orgasm was too violent; his arms and legs were like jelly.

“There’s cum on the ceiling,” he whispered, shocked. That was nasty.

“What?” Jongin asked, turning to him. Thank God, Kyungsoo thought. At least he didn’t fall asleep like last time.

“Nothing,” Kyungsoo said. He covered himself to the chest, even if he was sticky and sweaty and his skin was gluing to the sheets. Jongin had his elbow on the bed and palm holding his face, staring at Kyungsoo in silence. Junmyeon once said that they had the same creepy stare, but Kyungsoo knew very well that he was being tested.

“I love how disappointed you look after sex,” Jongin said with pure sarcasm. “It’s the highlight of my day.”

Kyungsoo wanted to roll his eyes so badly.

“I’m not,” he said, tired. “I literally ejaculated onto the ceiling. How can I possibly be more satisfied than that?”

He wasn’t disappointed. He really wanted to tell Jongin that but he couldn’t, of course. How could he explain that he was, in fact, just missing having sex with three people that he loved and cared about and who knew him better than anyone else? All those one-night stands were midnight snacks so he wouldn’t starve. Kyungsoo watched how every one of his friends found themselves a partner and lived very well and contently, but he couldn’t do the same – he had a one-track mind. He had a strong moral system and he couldn’t imagine himself having a double life.

Jongin sat up and left the bed, standing naked in the room.

“I don’t even know why I keep humiliating himself this way,” he said and picked his jeans up off the floor like they weighed a ton.

Kyungsoo was the one who called him, so he was not sure why Jongin was overdramatizing the whole thing. They had sex approximately eight times during three encounters and they went well in Kyungsoo’s opinion. None of the other guys complained about Kyungsoo’s lack of enthusiasm after sex; they probably didn’t care, which was the right thing to do.

“You don’t have to come here if you don’t want to?” Kyungsoo stated the obvious. “I won’t be offended.”

Maybe he was afraid of pissing Kyungsoo off and handling the consequences in his professional life. Kyungsoo would never say a bad word about him (Jongin was as professional as him) and sex was just for fun, after all.

Jongin was buttoning his pants.

“Now you make the others look disappointing,” he said, sighing. “I wonder why you’re so good in bed and yet so uninterested.”

“I’m interested in you,” Kyungsoo again felt like explaining an obvious fact. “That’s why I called you. I don’t call people often.”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Jongin was putting his white t-shirt on, almost unbothered. He was one of those people who could look handsome in anything – that’s probably why he sold pretty much everything that he promoted. The first time Kyungsoo took pictures of him, he felt like he could do that for hours without getting bored; Kyungsoo sometimes couldn’t deal with the gorgeous models with dead eyes and boring expressions all day long, but Jongin had something that many lacked: charisma.

And terrible mood swings, apparently.

“Where’s my bracelet?” he mumbled, walking around in Kyungsoo’s apartment. “I can’t lose it.”

Kyungsoo stood up, wrapped in the sheets, and removed the jewelry stuck between the bed and the nightstand. The bed had been shaking too much and it ended up hitting the nightstand a couple of times.

“Here,” Kyungsoo said.

Jongin turned to him, surprised, and stared at the bracelet.

“Ah.” He took it gently. “Thank you.”

It was more uncomfortable than that time when he fell asleep in Kyungsoo’s bed. He looked a bit embarrassed with Kyungsoo’s calm response.

“Sorry,” he said again. “You kind of hurt my ego. I’m giving my best and I’m still feeling like I’m not good enough.”

“Because I’m not worshipping you like people do?” Kyungsoo asked and it was a bit rude but he was genuinely curious. Did Jongin want Kyungsoo to smile just to please him?

Jongin’s face showed nothing but disgust.

“You don’t even know me,” he said. “That’s an awful thing to say.”

He turned back to leave and Kyungsoo felt a bad taste in his mouth. He was rude and it wasn’t his normal behavior. Kyungsoo always made sure to be as polite as he could.

“Let’s know more about each other, then,” he tried. “Go on a date.”

Jongin was already reaching the door when he heard those words and turned back.

“Great. And what’ll we do on this amazing date?” he asked, unimpressed. “I don’t even know why you beg me to come and have sex with you when you clearly don’t want to have sex with me.”

Kyungsoo blinked, silent.

“It’s obvious, you know,” Jongin said before leaving. “You don’t have to pretend.”

The door closed.

Kyungsoo stood in the same spot. Maybe he was right, he thought. Kyungsoo already had what he needed, so why did he chase after people when he didn’t want them? He never gave anyone the slightest chance. His friends were outside having a real-life with other people they loved (Baekhyun let it slip, Jongdae was dating too, head over heels about the guy) and he couldn’t even open up during sex.

He looked for his phone in the mess of his room and ran to the kitchen window where he could see the back garage door. Jongin was waiting there, probably calling a taxi or a personal driver. Kyungsoo called him.

Jongin stared at the phone and turned back to the building. Kyungsoo waved in the window, hoping that he could see it.

“What?” Jongin answered the call.

“Let’s go on a date,” Kyungsoo asked again. “Please.”

“What’s your problem?” Jongin asked seriously.

“I’ve never been on a date,” Kyungsoo said. “I didn’t ask anyone out before.”

Jongin took a while to answer that.

“I’ll send you my schedule and then you’ll tell me when.”

Kyungsoo smiled, his heart beating fast, erratically.

“Okay.”

 

 

 

[30 March 2014]

Jongdae sat on the chair after grabbing a tissue and stared at his reflection on the shiny mug. He looked tired and serious. He spent the last weeks crying and feeling sorry for himself. When he stared at himself in the mirror, he realized that he was no longer the person he used to be, the smiling, calm but energetic man that faced everything on his own.

Minseok came with another mug and Jongdae smiled.

“Thanks for coming,” Minseok said. “I needed to talk to someone and go out. God, this new semester barely started and here I am.”

“They’ll approve your request,” Jongdae smiled. “You’ll get your Ph.D., I just know. You deserve it.”

“Thank you,” Minseok said, blowing on his coffee. “Have you been eating well?”

“Not sure,” Jongdae’s smile was fading.

Minseok got serious, his sharp eyes narrowing. He wasn’t scary at all, being short and with his round and young face, but sometimes he knew how to look threatening.

“Do you need money?”

“No, no,” Jongdae said quickly, realizing how it sounded. “I have enough.”

Minseok then looked around, thinking. He had died his hair in a light brown that suited his face and made him look like he was one of the trainees-to-be in the Korean club.

“Is it about Yixing?”

Jongdae gulped, feeling like he was just stabbed. Everything about it hurt, a never-ending bleeding cut.

“Yes,” Jongdae confessed. “But it’ll be okay.”

“Really?” Minseok asked suspiciously. “Why?”

“My friends will be here soon,” Jongdae said. “And that will be past.”

There was a French song playing that sounded quiet and sad and Jongdae wished he was back home, crying in his bed. The world seemed heavier and tiring and he just wanted to rest.

“Since you started seeing this guy, it gets worse every time I see you,” Minseok said. “I don’t understand, really.”

“It’s not his fault,” Jongdae said quickly.

“That doesn’t change anything,” Minseok said. “It doesn’t matter who’s causing it, it’s happening. You look pale, skinnier and older. What’s going on? I thought this thing was exactly what you wanted.”

Jongdae looked away; he didn’t want to cry in public. Minseok was trying to help because well, since they met Minseok had been nothing but a good friend of his. Without him, Jongdae would have given up a long time ago.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” he said.

Minseok put his mug on the table and sighed, angry.

“I avoided asking you to break up with him,” Minseok said quietly. “It sounded selfish of me.”

Jongdae was confused but he didn’t want to interrupt.

“I have feelings for you,” Minseok made it look easy to say. “And right now, I’m not able to offer all this romance thing that probably got you addicted to him. But well, it doesn’t make sense to keep dating… seeing this guy. I’m trying not to be biased, you see.”

Jongdae couldn’t move or speak.

“In case if you need me,” Minseok shrugged. “I’m here for pretty much anything, except like marriage.”

Jongdae snorted, relaxing for the first time in weeks.

 

 

 

[April 17, 2014]

Baekhyun loved that karaoke. It was one of the coolest places he had ever been, even though it was just cheap karaoke. It had good food, few people and the songs he liked to sing the most. Perhaps the neon decor was the best part; after he stared for a while, the lights remained in his eyes, added to the alcohol and gave the impression that he was in a dream. He always felt euphoric during his trips. He leaned back on the couch he shared with Jongdae and intertwined their legs. Jongdae, who was humming the song Kyungsoo was singing, faced him.

"What is it," Jongdae smiled. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Baekhyun returned the smile. "Amazing."

"Amazing as well," Jongdae carefully pulled Baekhyun's hair back. "Or 'amazing - I'm going to be sick in the bathroom all night’?"

"A little bit of both," Baekhyun laughed, realized he was sweating. "I will stop drinking, I swear."

"If you get too drunk, we will reject you," Jongdae warned, pointing a finger. "It's all your fault."

Baekhyun didn't care. He was happy. It was a feeling of completion, of not caring about anything else in the world besides his own happiness. He stuck his fingers in the pocket of Jongdae's button-down shirt. It was black, made of soft fabric and looked good in it.

"Your hair is beautiful like this, longer," Baekhyun spoke a little louder to compete with the voices of Kyungsoo and Chanyeol in harmony. "You shouldn't cut it."

"Long hair takes more work, I'm lazy," he laughed to himself. "In fact, it is already long because of my laziness to go to the barber."

"I'll cut it," Baekhyun said.

"No, thanks," Jongdae said, looking ahead. The lights hit his face, outlining the features of his thin, sharp cheekbones.

"You are beautiful," Baekhyun whispered, knowing that no one would listen. He looked ahead, too, to the stage, and sighed alone seeing Kyungsoo singing and Chanyeol playing guitar - they were completely different. Chanyeol was immediately serious, focused, different from his usual cheerful and careless way, talking too loudly, stumbling, throwing himself to the floor in laughter. Kyungsoo opened up; it was frightening and fascinating how singing showed his true face, so difficult to notice within its layers of protection and shyness.

Baekhyun was a passionate idiot, completely in love. He knew exactly the design that formed the moles of Kyungsoo on his back, the tone of voice that Jongdae had when he was on the edge of irritation and how Chanyeol's knees swelled when he was in pain. It was such a great feeling inside him that it made him want to scream, tell everyone, scoff, let go completely of fear and silence. He imagined the face of his parents, quietly married, of his brother, already engaged. He imagined his girlfriend reacting, his co-workers. No, it would be funny for a short time. Not forever. Do not give that which is holy to the dogs, nor cast your pearls before the pigs. They would not understand the preciousness of what he owned.

The music ended and the people around them clapped, standing. It was always like that; someone casually asked if they were professional musicians or something. Baekhyun was the only one who worked with the voice and yet, it was just a detail. Jongdae sang all the time, but he liked the academic life better, studying and being calm, without sweating. Kyungsoo only sang abroad - the first time Baekhyun heard him sing, they were in separate rooms and he believed for the four minutes of the song that the radio was on. 'It's me', Kyungsoo confessed, the tip of his ears as red as apples. They were in Dubai and Baekhyun knew he would never forget that hotel room.

"Let's go home," Jongdae warned. "Stop drinking."

"Okay," Baekhyun didn't complain this time. He never wanted to go home early and usually, Chanyeol supported, dragged the other two, reluctant and sleepy, with them. But now he was happy, content, quietly euphoric.

"I'm tired," Chanyeol announced, shaking off the coat he had been wearing religiously since they met, walking around the table. Kyungsoo was hiding behind him. “But it was cool, even with another guitar, this one needs to be well-tuned…”

"I'll pay and you take Baekhyun out," Jongdae stood up and touched Chanyeol's arm. He was always touching someone; it was a little sticky, in a good way. "Call a taxi."

"I already paid," Chanyeol made a gesture of disinterest. “Kyungsoo! Call a taxi outside. Do I have to carry this paunchy man on my back? ”

"I'm not chubby," Baekhyun pouted in protest. "I'm working out."

"You only eat pizza," Chanyeol laughed, shoving his index finger into Baekhyun's belly. "There is no point in working out like that."

"Not fair, I'm trying to get some pounds and you do it so effortlessly," Jongdae tapped his own belly. "Ah, I'm sleepy."

"Me too," Chanyeol yawned. "But I thought... well... are we going to sleep?"

"Baekhyun is drunk, you're tired and I am sleepy," Jongdae counted on his fingers. "Kyungsoo never really matters, let's be honest."

"A little rude to say that when I do most of the heavy lifting," Kyungsoo's voice was noticed before his modest figure came out of Chanyeol's shadow. "There's a taxi at the door, let's go."

Baekhyun admired the city lights as he left, hanging upside down from Chanyeol's back. So good, so good that it didn't even feel real.

 

 

 

[April 20, 2014]

Baekhyun opened his eyes. The sun was coming in through the window - Jongdae always complained about it in the group. His room was very bright and he woke up with a headache. Baekhyun hadn't drunk the night before, he was just tired. He didn't want to wake up. It was the last day, the suitcases were at the door, the clock on the wall didn't care about their short time together. Baekhyun looked to the side, Jongdae's bare back and Chanyeol's hand on it, fingers spreading, wanting to swallow everything. On the other side, Kyungsoo was wrapped in the sheet up to his neck, his head resting on Baekhyun's shoulder.

Baekhyun closed his eyes and tried to keep the smell, the taste, the feeling of having them. Now they had more rules. No marks. No exaggeration. Leaving earlier, less time, more distrust.

The alarm went off a few minutes later. Chanyeol was the first to rise; Jongdae rolled over beside him, the sheet wrinkled between his legs, unused. It looked like a painting.

"What time is it?" Kyungsoo asked, moving too. The contact with his hot skin was better than the blanket and Baekhyun blasphemed against any God in control of their time.

"Hey," Baekhyun whispered, turning his face to better see the mole he had on his lips.

Kyungsoo opened his eyes slowly.

"Good morning," he whispered back and kissed Baekhyun's face.

"Here," Baekhyun pointed angrily at his lips. Kyungsoo smiled and gave a peck to calm him down.

"You two, don't even start," Chanyeol complained, jumping out of bed. "Two hours to get to the airport and everyone's dirty—"

Baekhyun ignored whatever he was saying to admire the long line of his back as he walked.

"He's a dumb drunk man," he sighed. "But those muscles are worth it."

Jongdae yawned, stretched, and shouted, as he always did when he woke up. Baekhyun's heart ached at the thought that he wouldn't see this scene for a whole year. That was a good way to think about the way his chest hurt.

"It never hurts less," he said loudly. Jongdae looked at him and smiled.

"It's worse for me," Jongdae explained. "I sleep in this bed every day."

 

 

 

 

[13 May 2014]

All Kyungsoo had asked was: are you really okay?

Jongdae wasn’t, of course. He was positive and cheerful and he tried to convince himself and pretty much everyone else that there was nothing wrong. In fact, all the things he could share were good news. He was about to graduate, he was paying his bills, he had a few friends now and his apartment was comfortable, though once in a while he thought about moving to the campus residence. That was what he said when they were there, with him, a suggestion that he made himself since they were short on money that year. It was that happy week where nothing bad could harm Jongdae – he even skipped a few classes, obligating Minseok to get all the class information with Jongdae’s classmates. Minseok, as a good friend, didn’t ask why Jongdae was busy nor tried to visit him, avoiding the awkwardness of finding out the truth.

When the three of them left to get their plane, Jongdae smiled. When he arrived home, by himself, he cried.

And that was what he did again when Kyungsoo asked him carefully, with that kind expression of his, at the door of his small studio, holding a cup of coffee, “are you really okay?”

Coming back home gave him the feeling of comfort. Kyungsoo had won an award and he paid for Jongdae’s tickets, wanting to see everyone there to celebrate. Jongdae had to go back to his house and smile to his family, had to cross the streets he was used to walk, all back to his old life.

Kyungsoo guided him inside, made him sit, brought him a glass of water. And waited. So Jongdae cried for long minutes in peace, face against the soft fabric of the couch.

“Is that about the man that you’re dating?” Kyungsoo asked, serious.

Jongdae wiped his nose and eyes, staring at him.

“Baekhyun let it slip,” Kyungsoo explained, pushing his glasses up his nose. “He’s good at keeping secrets, but not from us.”

“Yes,” Jongdae said. “We broke up. I’m sorry, it’s just… I didn’t allow myself to cry in front of anyone… this is the first time.”

He drank water and it felt like a cleansing, like could finally let it go.

“Did he break up with you?”

Jongdae stared at the empty glass.

“No, I broke up with him.”

Kyungsoo seemed to be surprised but Jongdae understood his reaction. It was hard to picture himself as the one who took the final decision. It was his last resource to protect himself.

“Why?” Kyungsoo almost whispered.

Jongdae sighed – to answer that he had to tell everything from the start. But from them all, Kyungsoo would probably the best listener and he could understand Jongdae’s struggles, as someone who also faced similar problems. Unlike Baekhyun and Chanyeol, that came from families that had enough to support their dreams and give them what they needed, Kyungsoo started working early and had to give up on a few aspirations to succeed. And even if Kyungsoo had never stated, the other three suspected that he had no interest in dating girls.

“We met at a club meeting,” Jongdae started. “He had my number because the administration gave it to him.”

It was hard to explain why that day was life-changing. After a few months in the new university, Jongdae had tried to date – only men, the majority of women didn’t even talk to him, - and he had achieved no success. They were interested in sex and sex only, most of the time. Some didn’t even want to have a conversation and that hurt him deeply. He only had Minseok, and sometimes Baekhyun, to talk about that, about the fact that he really needed more than just physical connection.

Then he met Yixing.

It was hard to describe the feelings, but Jongdae did the best to explain why Yixing was the remedy that he needed. His kindness, his patience, and his big heart.

“He took me out for coffee,” Jongdae gulped. “And then, instead of asking me things like work, family and my life here, he just, asked me about my dreams.”

Yixing was a musician and he knew how to speak Korean and English. He once lived in Korea when he was younger, under a big entertainment management. They treated him like shit, but he learned enough to start dreaming of working in America – his biggest goal. He used to send a different song to Jongdae almost every morning.

Yixing was also conventionally attractive, despite not being the star of the campus and Jongdae knew them all. He wanted to succeed.

“He seems sweet,” Kyungsoo said.

“He was… he is…” Jongdae smiled sadly. “We’ve been together since last year. I’m really sorry for not telling you in person.”

“Why didn’t you?” Kyungsoo wasn’t judgmental, just curious.

“Because we were never… dating,” Jongdae tried not to cry again. “We couldn’t be together, you see? He dreams to be a big star. It’s not… possible for us to stay together.”

Kyungsoo’s expression got darker for a second.

“When did you decide that?” He asked, now suspicious. “Didn’t you know that from the start?”

Jongdae’s eyes were teary again.

How to explain that? It was hard to say no when he was in love. It was hard to deny affection and sweetness when he was completely all by himself in a foreign place, hard to say no to someone who treated him like a human being, who kissed him goodnight, said I love you.

“I went to his family house,” Jongdae swallowed. “It was the biggest house I’ve ever seen in my life. I met his family and I was introduced as a ‘friend from college’. That was when I realized.”

That feeling of being so small, so ridiculously unimportant. Jongdae stood there, listening to that people talk about their lives, about Yixing’s future so proudly. Jongdae was a friend and he would die being a friend – he wouldn’t belong to that place not even if he was a girl. He wasn’t simply good enough.

Kyungsoo closed his eyes; he was angry. He breathed deeply and held Jongdae’s face with both hands, kissing him briefly. Jongdae was surprised – they had a rule against anything but friendly touching except when they were traveling together and Kyungsoo used to be very strict about it.

“There’s no one in this world better than you,” Kyungsoo said. “No one is smarter or kinder, no one has your heart. That guy wasn’t good enough for you and he lost you as he should have. If he wasn’t capable of making you happier and better, then… his loss.”

Those words were engraved on Jongdae’s heart. His friends never ceased to make him happier and better, of course, he should only date people that make him feel the same.

 

 

[January 2, 2015]

The sun was hitting the window so hard that water fell on the marble and it dried in a matter of minutes. Chanyeol refused to leave the air-conditioned room, but who could blame him? The thermal sensation was almost 50 °C and Baekhyun did not understand why, but it seemed much worse outside; the sun, the hot weather, the people wearing short clothes and sandals... it was an endless summer. At the same time that he felt impelled to see the world outside, his body was punished by the hangover and the heat asked for another day in bed.

Jongdae walked wearing underwear and drinking juice from a box. Baekhyun almost slapped himself.

"Am I the only one bothered?" Baekhyun grunted. "We didn't travel all over the world to stay at the hotel all the time."

"Good luck trying to get Chanyeol out of bed," Jongdae laughed, stretching calmly.

"Where's Kyungsoo," Baekhyun was one minute away from giving up. "Where did he go?"

"He left, he went to some store here," Jongdae pointed to nothing in particular. "He didn't explain, of course."

"Don't let him go out alone," Baekhyun grunted. "It's dangerous!"

Jongdae just stared at him for a few seconds. Baekhyun thought about going out and looking for Kyungsoo, but Kyungsoo appeared a few minutes later, wearing a cap and atypical flip-flops, carrying two bags and a light stand.

"Where were you?" Baekhyun asked, nervous. "Of all the people who could break the rule of not going out alone, you were the one who did it!"

"I went to the store here in front of the hotel," he said, placing the bags carefully on the table. “I didn't get very far. They spoke English.”

Kyungsoo was the most fluent in English of them all, but that was not enough reason for him to take any chances - at least for Baekhyun. He took some equipment out of the bags carefully, one by one. Jongdae came back to help.

"What is it?" Baekhyun asked, still upset.

"I bought what I needed to take the photos," he replied, handing some signs to Jongdae. “It is not the same as my original equipment, but with a little creativity it will do.”

"We won't be able to get out of here today," Jongdae warned him. "Chanyeol has already ordered food and warned that he will not get out of bed."

Chanyeol hasn't left the room since they returned from New Year's Eve in Copacabana, blaming the hangover and the heat. Kyungsoo spent New Year's Eve wanting to use his camera. It had been a photography prize recently won by him who had paid for half the trip - they didn't have the money to travel that far. Jongdae cheered him up on the way to the hotel, but it was only a matter of time before he decided to photograph; there was no way to stop a workaholic.

"He doesn't need to get out of bed," Kyungsoo, crouching over the purchases, looked up and faced them. "I'm going to take the pictures right here."

Baekhyun and Jongdae looked at each other.

 

 

 

[22 September 2015]

“I think that someone is at the door,” his mother said, cleaning the table for the tenth time. Minseok, instead of stopping her, was just cleaning too. Jongdae was torn between scolding them or welcoming the guests.

“Your friend,” Minseok mouthed, keeping the dirty napkins on an empty cup. “Isn’t it?”

Jongdae turned back, startled. Chanyeol was just under the balloons, looking up and smiling. His hair was now light brown and he was well dressed, suit jacket and shiny shoes. Jongdae ran to give him a hug and only noticed that he was holding someone’s hand when they all bumped into each other.

“Ah,” Jongdae giggled. “I’m sorry.”

A short, blonde girl popped up from Chanyeol’s behind. She was wearing a black dress and she bowed quickly.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said.

“Hey, I brought beer,” Chanyeol pointed. “And Wendy.”

“Beer isn’t welcomed,” Jongdae pointed to his parents. “But I appreciate your girlfriend being here, at this point we were almost believing that she was one of your plushies.”

“She looks like a plushie,” Chanyeol said, smiling.

“Nice to meet you,” she said, bowing again. “Chanyeol always says nice things about you.”

“Ah, she’s cute,” Jongdae said. “Nice to meet you! He doesn’t say enough good things about you!”

“Shut up,” Chanyeol laughed; he looked older and softer. “Is there cake?”

Minseok introduced himself to them since Jongdae was constantly requested to talk to people. They were chatting in the corner and once in a while, Jongdae checked on them. Chanyeol changed the playlist with the help of Jongdae’s father and some low, cool song started to play. Baekhyun arrived late, as always, but he blamed Taeyeon.

“He’s lying,” she said, she had two cute braids and new bangs that framed her face perfectly. “He’s got more make up than me. He’s the one being late because he needs the perfect outfit.”

Minseok spat his soda on himself from laughing and Chanyeol couldn’t miss the opportunity to mock his friend, so Baekhyun spent ten minutes trying to explain himself and kept failing.

“Happy birthday, Jongdae,” he said pointedly when he realized that he couldn’t win that fight. “We brought a gift.”

“Surprise,” Taeyeon showed him a box perfectly wrapped like a Christmas present. Jongdae thanked them and opened it. It was a coffee machine.

“Oh, happy birthday to me,” Minseok said excitedly. Baekhyun stared at him and Jongdae realized that they haven’t been introduced. In fact, Jongdae only talked about Minseok once, mostly as a more-than-friends thing. Baekhyun was analyzing him, up and down, and Jongdae knew why. Poor Minseok, with his young face and colorful look, not realizing how he was being judged after a line of terrible, unsuccessful relationships that hurt Jongdae deeply. Even Chanyeol kept staring at him when Chanyeol himself was pretty chill around their partners in general.

“You must be Minseok,” Baekhyun said curiously. “You’re different than I thought.”

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae warned.

“What? It’s a compliment, believe me,” he said defensively. “You have a bad taste in men.”

Chanyeol snorted because he got the joke, but the girls were just confused. Well, good for them.

“Don’t be rude,” Taeyeon whispered angrily. She always had a soft spot for Jongdae, he knew.

“Well, always happy to exceed the expectations,” Minseok said easily; despite being shy, he was snarky. “Thanks for the coffee machine, by the way.”

“Are you guys living together?” Chanyeol asked.

“No, but he always visits me for coffee talk,” Jongdae said. “Thank you, really. I’m truly grateful.”

Against all odds, they started to talk and it wasn’t awkward anymore. Jongdae couldn’t keep up with them, busy with being the birthday boy, so he only had time to join them when most people had left.

Kyungsoo only arrived late at night. Jongdae wasn’t expecting him to come at all; Chanyeol and his girlfriend being there was a happy coincidence since they lived abroad. When Jongdae opened the door, he was even surprised – Kyungsoo wasn’t alone.

“Hello,” he said shyly. He was using a huge dark coat and his ‘serious’ glasses, his body shrinking as always. “I’m sorry I’m late. I wished I could have talked to Auntie.”

They weren’t staring at him, but at the tall man behind him.

“She would love that,” Jongdae gulped, still waiting for Kyungsoo to talk about the elephant in the room. “Please, get in. Make yourself comfortable.”

“He’s famous,” Wendy whispered to Chanyeol, but the room was too quiet for him not to listen. They both walked in and maybe Minseok realized that it was awkward because he took one for the team.

“Is that Kyungsoo, right? You guys are just like Jongdae describes, I swear.”

“Oh,” Kyungsoo bowed. “Nice to meet you…”

The man behind Kyungsoo took off the cap that he was wearing and Taeyeon gasped.

“Oh, Jongin, is that you?” She walked to him, smiling.

“Noona,” the man replied, hugging her. He was tall, had nice physique and was using a very feminine bag. She tapped his shoulders many times, excited.

“It’s been years since I saw you,” she said. “God, you’re so tall now.”

“Is there still cake left?” Kyungsoo asked Jongdae, ignoring them completely.

“Yeah, I can get you a slice,” Jongdae said, distracted. “And who’s that… with you?”

“Ah, this is Jongin,” Kyungsoo said simply. “He drove me here.”

“Is he your driver?” Baekhyun asked immediately, shaking his beer, and Chanyeol snorted again. Kyungsoo didn’t like it, of course, shooting him a killing glare. Jongdae sighed.

“Do you want cake too?” He asked the newcomer. “It’s strawberry and chocolate.”

“Yes, thank you,” Jongin smiled and Jongdae recognized his face from some outdoor. He left the room and stared at them from far while cutting the cake. The girls seemed to be relaxed, Minseok seemed to be having fun and the rest was tense. Jongdae wasn’t expecting Kyungsoo to bring anyone, ever. Judging by the way Chanyeol and Baekhyun reacted, no one was actually ready for that.

Yet, it was a peaceful reunion. They only left when the sun was rising. Baekhyun was slightly drunk, napping on the couch, Chanyeol and Taeyeon were singing old songs, Wendy was talking to Jongin and Kyungsoo was the one to kick them out – Jongdae wouldn’t.

Minseok was already sleeping when they left. Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh when he saw Minseok sleeping in his childhood bed, pillows between his legs, face touching the rock band posters glued to the wall.

“Hey,” Jongdae nudged him. “Go take a shower. You used to be the cleanest one.”

Minseok opened one eye and shrugged. They skipped sleep and started to talk.

“What do you think about them?” Jongdae asked, sitting on the bed.

“They’re… not like you,” Minseok said, spinning Jongdae’s favorite old pen.

“How?”

“They’re… glamorous,” he finally explained. “They look like… celebrities.”

Jongdae giggled.

“Yeah, I know it,” he gulped. “But did you like them?”

“They seem fine,” Minseok grinned. “I couldn’t stop thinking you know… about you four…”

He winked and Jongdae jumped to cover his mouth.

“You promised me you would keep a secret,” Jongdae was truly worried yet he laughed. “Minseok, this is serious. No one can know that you know.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he held Jongdae’s hand gently. “I behaved well, didn’t I?”

Jongdae agreed in silence, moving back to his spot.

“Don’t think about that,” he complained. “It’s embarrassing, I mean. For me.”

“Oh, but it was highly entertaining,” Minseok smiled. He had cat eyes and a cat personality; sometimes he was soft and inoffensive and sometimes he was chaotic. Jongdae got used to that, after years of being friends.

“I’m glad that you had fun,” Jongdae said.

“The shady one was the one who brought the guy, right?” Minseok said. “You guys looked surprised.”

“The Kyungsoo you met is his second identity, he becomes a superhero when he takes off his glasses, that’s why he’s so secretive,” Jongdae mocked. “Yeah, he didn’t tell us about his dating life but well, that’s how he lives his life. He’s quiet.”

“Quiet,” Minseok nodded. “And did they like me?”

“I don’t know,” Jongdae shrugged. “Chanyeol never dislikes someone without a good reason, we’ll never know about Kyungsoo’s feelings and Baekhyun approved you, apparently.”

“Will it be easier if I promise that I won’t break your heart?” Minseok said. “I can do it.”

“I don’t need to be protected,” Jongdae said. “I’m the toughest one.”

They had breakfast with Jongdae’s family and after they were finally ready to sleep, Jongdae sat on his old bed to think before falling asleep.

Glamorous, Minseok said. He wasn’t lying, they looked glamorous now, barely resembling the skinny adolescents with baby fat and pimples. Jongdae rubbed his slippers on the floor, closing his eyes. So many things had changed and yet he felt unworthy – the busy one, the ugly one, the poor one. No matter how long they’d been together, Jongdae had always that feeling of ‘me?’ in the back of his throat. At some point, maybe when he finally left the country, he was confident, but life hit him hard so many times that he didn’t feel safe anymore like an impending disaster was teasing him with happiness.

He shook his head. “I’m okay,” he said. “I’m twenty-four.”

He had a job, a boyfriend, a place, a nice family and friends. Sure, he lived a simple life. At this point, Baekhyun was almost a celebrity and he looked prettier and a bit different every year, though they didn’t discuss what exactly he was doing to achieve that – especially considering the fact that Jongdae was certain that Taeyeon went through a few surgical procedures. Chanyeol was carefree because he wasn’t interested in getting rich or famous, but enjoying life the fullest, visiting different places, learning new things and having fun. He simply couldn’t stay still and well, he was talented, young, handsome in the most convenient way and even charming. No one knew much about Kyungsoo’s daily life, but he had achieved a whole new level professionally. He seemed happy while overworking. And then, unexpectedly, he was dating someone too. So, sometimes Jongdae felt truly… mediocre among them, even though he didn’t want to trade their positions. In the end, Jongdae liked that what they had was the most extraordinary thing in his quiet and boring life.

 

 

 

 

[1 November 2015]

A foreign song was playing in the car and Jongin was driving smoothly, though Kyungsoo knew that he wasn’t calm. Four in the morning, he checked, they had really enjoyed the Halloween party after all, and Kyungsoo was slightly drunk. Jongin was heading to their apartment and they had to be alert just to be sure that no one was following them. Three gates inside the village and Kyungsoo was still laying on the backseat, staring at the ceiling, phone in his hand. He had to wait until Jongin was already inside of their apartment before he even left the car, being silent on his way, maybe taking the stairs.

When Kyungsoo opened the door, Jongin wasn’t playing with his dogs. The glass door that led to their long, huge balcony with fake grass was closed. He stared at his side, checking which lights were on – corridor, probably their room. Kyungsoo took his shoes off and went to the kitchen to drink some water. There was a fight coming, he could feel it and it was the worst because both of them hated any display of aggression. They never screamed, never hit each other, and almost never called each other bad names. After all, they were trying hard to have a quiet private life.

Kyungsoo decided to face the problem and found Jongin fully dressed, from shirt to socks, in their bed with his back against the long wooden headboard.

They stared at each other.

“What?” Kyungsoo tried to sound as soft as he could.

“You know what,” Jongin mumbled, unconsciously pouting. His brown hair kept falling into his eyes.

Kyungsoo repressed a sigh and sat next to him in bed, mirroring his position.

“I really don’t know what you want me to do,” he said, putting his hand carefully over Jongin’s thigh. “I can’t control Baekhyun’s behavior. That’s how he is, he’s just kidding.”

There was a reason why he avoided bringing Jongin with him to his friends’ events. Most people thought that it was because they were closeted, which wasn’t true. Jongin’s friends loved to go to their apartment, asking Kyungsoo to their parties and gigs and there was no problem at all. Kyungsoo liked them all too, despite not being close with them.

“I just want you to tell me the truth.” Jongin shook his head. “I don’t care if your friends hug you or are touchy around you. I could be jealous, of course, but I know I shouldn’t so… that’s not what’s bothering me.”

“That’s just the way it is, you saw him flirting even with Chanyeol’s girlfriend—”

“Not the same, Kyungsoo.” Jongin slapped his hand away. “Is it so hard to admit that he’s into you? That you had something in the past?”

Kyungsoo rubbed his own face, tired. Yes, it was Baekhyun’s fault and his tendency to see everything as a dare, crossing the line, playing with fire. Jongdae was extremely discreet – no one, even Jongin, would suspect. Jongdae kept his distance, smiled tightly, never stared too much. Besides, living abroad and having a boyfriend that was way too chill always protected him. He didn’t have to prove anything. Chanyeol was a bit careless but the thing was: most people didn’t take him seriously and Kyungsoo knew that Chanyeol had to work hard to not be seen as superficial and dumb. Chanyeol and Baekhyun played with each other in a suspect way but it seemed just… for fun. Jongin didn’t question Chanyeol and Kyungsoo’s friendship mostly because they were too close – as soon as he heard Chanyeol’s mother calling Kyungsoo her son, his mind couldn’t take Chanyeol’s loving stares as romance. Also, and maybe more importantly, Chanyeol could really convince some people that he was straight, being all lovey-dovey with his adorable innocent girlfriend.

“The way he looks at you,” Jongin said. “It’s not the same.”

The reason why Kyungsoo kept Jongin away from them was that Jongin was an actor and his friends weren’t. He knew how to read emotions and bad acting.

“What does that bother you so much?” Kyungsoo didn’t want to fight. “He has a girlfriend, I have you, and he’s my friend.”

Jongin stared at him, serious.

“It’s because he’s more important than me.”

“There’s no such thing,” Kyungsoo retorted. “This is not a competition.”

“Great, because otherwise, I would definitely lose,” he snorted sadly. Kyungsoo finally sighed and jumped off the bed, endlessly tired. The pretty posters that they framed on the walls seemed to be listening, staring, judging.

“I’ll be with the dogs on the balcony,” Kyungsoo said. “Don’t wait for me.”

“Nice,” Jongin mumbled dryly. “Let’s just pretend it’s fine until you have to leave with your friends and conveniently break up again.”

Kyungsoo stopped walking and turned back. He wasn’t an angry person but when Jongin got this close to figuring it out, he was defensively mad.

“I think pretending is the best thing we do,” Kyungsoo said seriously. “Should we both stop pretending? Would it be good for us to tell the truth?”

Jongin was cornered – it wasn’t nice to say that. Being closeted wasn’t a choice for him.

“You’re being mean,” he stated, shrinking. “On purpose.”

Kyungsoo couldn’t deny it so he left the room without a word, closing the door after him.

 

 

 

 

[31 January 2016]

“I need the new lens,” Kyungsoo asked his assistant, pointing to the back. “Can you please get it for me?”

He didn’t want to lose the angle, so he and the model – who was a very professional teenager, thank all gods – didn’t move. She was standing in front of a green screen, a few lights over her, highlighting her white-and-sparkly hair, plastic boots, and red eye make-up. Behind his camera, Kyungsoo was dressed in all black, with glasses and a bare face. At this point, even people mocked how unbothered he was showing up to work in huge fashion photoshoots. He didn’t understand why – he was the photographer. When he decided to work with magazines, he was interested in the money and the easy name recognition, not in showing off.

“Good god,” Junmyeon said, opening the door. “This air conditioner is really necessary? It’s already cold outside.”

Kyungsoo couldn’t look at his friend, staring at the model instead. They were slightly scared of him, he knew. He heard about models that were difficult to work with, but they always treated him nicely, probably already informed that he wasn’t very flexible.

“Here.” The lens was given in his hand.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m sorry for making you wait.”

It took thirty minutes, including the change of clothing and make-up. Kyungsoo wasn’t a big fan of chroma key, but it was the cheapest and fastest way to create a decent photoshoot. He gave the instructions to the staff, especially the ones working on the background. Junmyeon bought him black coffee and it was still hot when Kyungsoo was able to drink it.

“Thank you,” Kyungsoo said. “Wanna talk outside?”

It was a code, both knew.

“Of course,” Junmyeon agreed easily, pulling on his expensive beige coat and taking the lead. It wasn’t safe to talk when there were so many people around. They walked to the stairs and closed the fireproof door behind them. Since Junmyeon was always overdressed – he was a fashion editor, after all - it felt like another photoshoot.

“I’m going to enlist,” Kyungsoo said simply.

Junmyeon stared for a long time.

“Well,” he sighed. “Fuck me, I guess.”

“Third trimester, you’ll have time to find a replacement,” Kyungsoo tried to make it less shocking. “I can work until June if everything works out as I planned.”

“What’s up with you?” he laughed. “I mean, it’s still morning? Give me a break.”

“I’m serious.” Kyungsoo held his arm. “I didn’t tell anyone yet but you.”

Junmyeon closed his eyes and shook his head as if he was trying to make his brain work.

“Why?” He smiled again, confused. “You still have plenty of time. I’m not thinking about that and I’m older than you.”

“I can’t tell you why,” Kyungsoo sat down. It wasn’t clean but he didn’t mind.

“You’re blocking the way,” Junmyeon said but sat next to him anyway.

“Yes,” Kyungsoo said absently.

“What?” His friend stared at him.

“Forget it.”

They stayed there, in silence, holding their cups and thinking.

“Is everything okay with your family?” Junmyeon asked, suspicious.

“Yes,” Kyungsoo answered.

“How about those friends that you always see?”

“They’re fine.”

“How about your boyfriend? How many times did you break up this month?”

“Zero,” Kyungsoo said. “But I’ll break up before enlisting.”

Junmyeon laughed; his pretty fingers, full of rings, hit his leg.

“I bet you have that in a spreadsheet,” he mocked Kyungsoo. “To do list: break-up again, enlistment.”

“I do,” Kyungsoo said seriously. “I have every little thing planned already. I’m going to travel to Japan for a month, in this case, July. And I’m always single when I travel.”

“God, please tell me that you’re not going to those saunas and sex clubs there, Kyungsoo. That’s fucked up. I know I don’t like you two dating but anything is better than to keep fucking random people.”

“You were the one who told me to have sex with him,” Kyungsoo retorted.

“Well, once,” Junmyeon sighed. “And only because I was tired of seeing him pretending to flirt with the camera when he was flirting with you.”

“It got us amazing photoshoots.”

“No doubt.”

They stayed like that, quietly drinking their coffees. It was nice to have a quiet friend, after all. A friend that is only a friend.

“I know what I’m doing,” Kyungsoo said. “I need a break from everything.”

“I know.” Junmyeon touched his arm. “I am highly aware of that, to be honest. But have you considered that something unexpected can happen and ruin your plans? Life is not that predictable, Kyungsoo.”

The photographer was silent while the warm coffee steam fogged his glasses.

 

 

 

[February 3, 2016]

Baekhyun stretched out beside the piano, feeling the habitual fatigue after exercising. The house was a mess. He brought some boxes himself, but removing the contents one by one and rearranging would be too much for one night. Loud music cut the silence from his laziness and he laughed - that was a warning. Taeyeon danced out of the hall and pointed at him dramatically.

"It's two in the morning," he almost begged. "Let me sleep."

"No," she spun around like a top and the plaid shirt, which was much bigger than herself, swayed in the wind. The windows were open and the neighbors must have been loving that triumphant arrival with loud music at dawn.

"We have time tomorrow," he grimaced.

"Yes," she agreed. "And we can spend it watching movies and eating pizza or packing the boxes."

"I prefer to rest," Baekhyun threw himself down dramatically. "Little by little ... one thing at a time ..."

Taeyeon walked over to him and started kicking him lightly, playfully.

"Lazy Taurus," she laughed.

"Dreamy Pisces," he complained, protecting his face. "Let me sleep…"

"Okay," she said slowly, joining him on the floor. "If you're the first to wake up, you have to make breakfast."

"In your dreams... I never wake up first..." he laughed, his hands reaching for hers. "You are a sleepwalker, can't you cook sleeping too?"

"It would be too useful," she yawned, interlacing their fingers. "Good night."

Baekhyun looked at the ceiling, chest aching. He always wanted that. He always wanted to have his home, his space, his special person, his refuge. Act like an adult, but still have a young spirit. He wanted all the things in the world and he was just getting started.

"Taeyeon," he whispered. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Yes," she said with her eyes closed.

"Is there anything ... that you would never forgive me for doing?" Baekhyun held his breath. "In addition to the horrible things like killing you and selling your organs in the black market."

She opened her eyes slowly. So small, but so scary.

"As well as...?"

"Like, abandoning you at the aisle, talking shit about your mother, traveling on your birthday," he counted on his fingers. "Stuff like that."

"You can't speak ill of my mother," she laughed. "She's an angel."

"I agree."

Taeyeon released his hand and looked up; he knew what she was thinking and these things couldn't be rushed. She dangled her legs for a while, then looked at him, calm and sleepy.

"If you stay with me without loving me," she announced as a commandment. "I know you love me today, but ... if one day ..."

Baekhyun shook his head slowly.

"Okay," he said quietly. "I promise I won't do that."

"It was just that?"

"Well, yes," he scratched his nose, losing the battle with sleep. "I'll sleep peacefully knowing that you won't leave me when I bring seventeen dogs home."

"I don't see a rational reason to break up because of such a detail," she yawned, turning to settle on the hard floor. "Good night."

He looked at the ceiling and thought about what they were doing. Chanyeol would be sleeping on the other side of the world, tired of the many chores. Jongdae could be sleeping or watching a movie alone, drinking wine. Kyungsoo would still be working, light on, glasses running down his nose.

Baekhyun was grateful for loving so many people.

 

 

 

[June 6, 2016]

Baekhyun jumped out of the car almost in motion. He stumbled but didn't fall, the backpack sliding off his shoulder.

"If you want to die," Taeyeon screamed from the window. "I'll shoot you myself."

Baekhyun blew air kisses at her and she laughed, driving away. He continued walking and waved to a colleague as he passed the entrance to the building. He went through the building's turnstile after touching the card, but the security guard already smiled at him, recognizing him. He took the elevator up in silence, among eight people. "You are so quiet when I see you alone," Jongdae said one day, "It's scary." Baekhyun met his friends in the rehearsal room, already going to change clothes. He decided to do a physical and vocal warm-up before putting on his clothes. Then he went to the bathroom to get dressed. When he took his phone out of his pants, he found the messages.

 

 

pcy: I checked and this hotel is the cheapest

pcy: it's cool, has wifi, seriously

pcy: at least take a look, Kyungsoo.

dks: you are not adding distance from places

dks: there's no use in spending less on the hotel and more w/ car or transportation

dks: like this, it's better to rent the house and not leave the surroundings

pcy: send me the spreadsheet you made

kjd: will i try to contact the house owner then?

 

 Baekhyun typed before changing,

 

bbh: i can't read now, but i promise i'll see everything when i get home!

 

The rehearsal lasted an hour longer than planned and Baekhyun ate on the way to the studio. There was nothing new to be done, just sit and put the clothes in their proper places. He finally had time to read all the messages and open the spreadsheet that Kyungsoo did religiously when they scheduled the trip. Baekhyun was terrible at that part; he was good with guides, to roll his tongue with new accents and find the right people. He was good on the trip, not before it. Chanyeol and Kyungsoo were the spreadsheet nerds.

Taeyeon arrived on time and he even forgot that he had to send a message.

"It's a miracle," he said, slamming the car door.

"Put on your belt and don't complain," she said, looking at the track. Her half-loose bun was letting her hair fall on her eyes and he carefully removed them. The cell phone beeped nonstopping, the group was in full activity. "What is it?"

"The trip," he said, yawning. The cell phone was in his lap, skidding on his jeans. "It's next month, have you forgotten?"

"Ah," she shook her head. "Really. I had forgotten…"

"It's four years old already," Baekhyun nudged her. "You forgot that you'll be without your boyfriend for almost a whole month."

"You're right," she smiled. "How could I forget my only moment of peace?"

"Shut up," he blinked. Traffic was bad, an accident on the way. He changed the radio station and she let go of the wheel, after so long in the traffic jam.

"I haven't seen Chanyeol lately," she said suddenly. "The other two I barely see, but where is he?"

"He moved to Canada last year," Baekhyun laughed, swinging his legs. "You're not right in the head, are you?"

"You have so many friends, I can't remember what happens to every one of them," she mumbled and they interlaced their fingers unconsciously. It was an old habit. "Enjoy that we won't be leaving here anytime soon and tell me about them."

Baekhyun sighed. He was not afraid to talk about them. When they all met Taeyeon three years ago, Kyungsoo was unable to make any facial expressions and Jongdae was nervous enough to stutter. But Baekhyun feared nothing. They were indeed friends, after all. He was not lying.

"Chanyeol went to Canada to live with his girlfriend," Baekhyun said, relaxing on the bench and looking forward. "He is fine. He doesn't have much money, but he is working. ”

"Is she from Canada?" Taeyeon asked.

“Ah, no, she's from here, but she lived there for a while. You like it better there, I guess,” Baekhyun explained. "Jongdae went to do the blessed exchange in China and just come home to visit, do you remember him?"

"Yes," she said. "He looks like Jonghyun."

"This one," Baekhyun laughed. The resemblance was real. “Kyungsoo lives here, but he has about five jobs and twenty dogs to look after, so I can never see him. He also travels a lot. ”

"The photographer," Taeyeon said.

"Yes," Baekhyun shook her hand gently. “He is an award-winning photographer. Much in demand.”

"And can you all still spend a month traveling?" She questioned, letting go of his hand to get behind the wheel again.

“Well, it's our tradition. It wasn't always a month. When we were eighteen, it was a weekend, twenty was two weeks, twenty-two, a month... ”

"It won't be more than that, right?" She asked, suspicious. "You need to pay the bills too, I'm not your sugar mama."

"You could pretend to miss me and not my money," Baekhyun complained. "I am not good enough to pay the bills."

"Is that what your friends' partners complain about after a month of you traveling around while we work?"

"Partners," he said enthusiastically. "You remembered that they date men!"

"Yes," she said, yawning. “Jongdae had about five boyfriends, Kyungsoo has a secret relationship. You complain about it a lot.”

He grabbed the sleeve of her plaid shirt and shook it.

"My god, my love," he said in disbelief. “You really listen to me! Come and give me a kiss!”

"Get out," Taeyeon pushed his face with her hand and got rid of the shirt pulling at the same time. "Okay, and where are you going this year?"

"Hmm," Baekhyun made suspense. "Japan!"

"Ah," she yawned again. "Nice."

"Pretend to be excited," Baekhyun grunted and started looking for some candy left behind in the car. Last time, he found a couple of jelly beans from two years before and they were still chewable.

"You have already gone to the other side of the world," she had an irrefutable point. "Japan is not that far."

"We'll go to the countryside, not Tokyo," Baekhyun spoke casually. “Fishing, seeing people's lives, drinking sake and sleeping. There is no good signal to talk on the phone and you know that the deal is to disconnect.”

“It seems kind of boring to do this for a whole month,” she went back to driving.

"This is the only time of year that Kyungsoo sleeps," Baekhyun laughed. "Besides, I love my men."

"I'm going to enjoy partying without you knowing," she raised her eyebrows suggestively. "Finally I will be able to eat my sweets at home without them disappearing at dawn."

"Do whatever you want, my princess," he blinked seductively. "You know that I'm the best boyfriend in the world."

"Say that again when you don't eat my fucking ice cream while I'm sleeping."

 

 

 

[July 7, 2016]

Baekhyun woke up to the clicking sounds. Sometimes Kyungsoo liked to photograph while they slept. It was difficult to push Chanyeol's heavy body aside and finally get out, but Baekhyun felt better and less warm. He peeled off the wet covers on both legs and walked casually into the room. He liked how small the hotel was, with little furniture, quiet and cozy. It was a contrast to his working days, in large theaters, loud, coordinated, incessant noise. The light outside came in through the window and the shadow of Jongdae's body against the wall looked huge, like the way he was inside. He was casually drinking coffee, elbows propped on the window, looking outside. Baekhyun went on tiptoe and kissed him on the neck, unprotected by the distraction. As Jongdae was shirtless, his old underwear barely covering what he was supposed to, Baekhyun saw his soft pubic hair - and that easy, genuine sound woke him up when he was distracted by horniness.

Jongdae turned to him and pulled him by the waist. The kiss tasted like unsweetened coffee.

"What is it," Baekhyun whispered against his mouth. "Insomnia?"

"No," Jongdae leaned his head to the side. "I'm taking care so he doesn't die."

In the middle of the quietest street that Baekhyun had ever walked on, calmly on top of a tree, Kyungsoo was holding his camera as if it were the most casual thing in the world; in pajamas, sitting on a tree - in a small town, in another country, in the middle of the night.

"Ah, no," Baekhyun sighed. He didn't know how to deal with Kyungsoo's carefree side. He was used to the most anxious and youngest member of the group always taking care of the safety of others, but for a good photo, he often forgot to take care of himself.

"He almost gave me a heart attack," Jongdae laughed. "You shouldn't get out of bed, Chanyeol hates being alone."

"Stop worrying about everyone and go rest," Baekhyun said, listening to the clicks. "Getting you to sleep is almost as difficult as getting him to stop working."

Jongdae stroked Baekhyun's back slowly, smiling lazily.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "Remember the Rio photos?"

Baekhyun closed his eyes; he remembers their legs intertwined, his hair being pulled at the perfect limit between pain and arousal. He remembers the taste of sweat, the never-ending heat, the sheets that he had to almost tear off. He remembers Kyungsoo, naked, holding a camera, in the middle of the room, almost like a painting against the beige wall, while Chanyeol was full, front and end, the way he liked it. Baekhyun remembers the flashes on his eyes, the endless night, days at the hotel ...

"Yes," Baekhyun said and felt a strange tightness in his chest.

 

 

[July 12, 2016]

Taeyeon ran up the stairs and stopped to take a break, sitting on the steps. She was trying to pretend that she was exercising, pretending that she could get through a routine, now that she didn't wake up with Baekhyun breaking a glass in the kitchen or making another unnecessary loud noise. She took a deep breath, one, two, three, four, five and drank from the bottle of water she carried everywhere. She stretched her legs and tried to remember how many things she had to do on the day, the long hours and the tight deadlines.

Someone in high heels opened the door. Yuri, hair tied and a button-down shirt, holding that cell phone like a holy book.

"I was looking for you," she frowned.

"Exercise," Taeyeon pointed to the bottle. She had to warm up her voice before recording, she had to feel comfortable; her Adidas sneakers were ripped, but she never took the elevator.

"There's someone on the phone wanting to talk to you," Yuri spoke softly as if someone other than Taeyeon was on the stairs. "Her name is Seungwan."

"I don't know anyone with that name," Taeyeon wiped her hands on her shirt and stood up. "Who is she?"

"International call and she seems to be crying," Yuri said, concerned. "She introduced herself as Chanyeol's girlfriend."

Taeyeon's heart stopped for a second - what if something had happened? They were almost without signal, far away—

"Nothing happened," Yuri said, reading the emotions on her friend's face. "She said it's about some photos."

"Photos?" Taeyeon repeated, confused. "What photos?"

"I don't know," Yuri was impatient. "Answer the call and find out, otherwise I'll hang up."

Taeyeon smiled, relief running through her veins.

"I'm going to answer it now," she said, jumping up the last few steps. "At least it's not bad news.”

 

 

[29 July 2016]

The summer was insufferable, the sun too strong. Jongdae raised his hands and covered his eyes, a weak shield against the burning star illuminating his tiny living room. He still lived in the same place that he rented during the undergraduate days, which sometimes bothered him. But it was comfortable and it was near the university and the school where he taught classes sometimes, so he could eat out with Minseok when he had time.

His phone was on the table, suspiciously quiet. Jongdae held the coffee cup and, tired of checking the group chat over and over again, and left his apartment. The stairs were dirty and the front door was creaking, but he was alone and that was nice, somehow. The post-trip was a nostalgic and liberating moment: he was already missing the boys and somehow happy with the memories.

“Good morning,” someone shouted. It was the lady whose grandkid Jongdae taught Korean.

He waved, smiling. “Good morning.”

Jongdae sat by the door, the overgrowth grass rubbing his socks and sipped his coffee. His lips were dry against the old mug and he tasted Japan again.

Two days since they left and no message yet; he sighed. They were silent for a while, of course. Unpacking, spending time with partners, home-related chores. Still, two days was a lot.

The round tiny car stopped by the door and Jongdae gasped. His heart welcomed the sight of Minseok. He stood up and smiled.

“Ah, you’re here.”

“Sorry for the delay,” Minseok said, still on his oversized uni shirt. No one would guess that he was a professor, not a student. “I had to fix my car yesterday.”

“No problem,” Jongdae hugged him, smiling brightly. “Can you stay for a while?”

“Yes,” Minseok hugged him back. “I can spend a few hours here today, my class start in the evening.”

Jongdae brought him home, content. He told Minseok the fun anecdotes and the interesting events. It was probably the calmest travel experience they had so far. They went fishing, drinking late at night, singing in karaokes. Chanyeol was studying the language, Jongdae was reading a few books and Kyungsoo, as always, was working. Baekhyun stormed out for walks alone, despite his own warnings.

“Did you eat well?” Minseok asked, holding the mug for Jongdae.

“Yes, we had a nice kitchen and Kyungsoo and Chanyeol took turns to cook for us,” Jongdae said and ran to prepare him coffee too. “It was funny. I even swan in the river.”

“Oh,” Minseok was impressed.

They sat in Jongdae’s couch that fit both of them, even if it was small. In that calm morning, they shared a little about their past weeks. Jongdae was so used to having Minseok around that he lost track of the time. They had a meal and talked for hours.

“I must go,” Minseok announced, checking his watch. “It’s late.”

“You can sleep here tonight, if you want to,” Jongdae said casually. “After you finish your classes.”

Minseok raised one eyebrow in a silent question. Jongdae didn’t answer, of course, and waited until he was alone again to check his phone.

That moment was unforgettable. He would always remember the feeling of the empty, cold mug in one hand and the phone in the other.

 

dks has left the chat

 

No messages after that. No Chanyeol complaining about things. No Baekhyun sending funny videos. No one seemed to react.

“Something is happening,” Jongdae said to himself, yet he couldn’t figure out what. Kyungsoo wouldn’t simply leave the chat without warning about the reason why first. Chanyeol was never silent after traveling and he would throw a tantrum in case anyone left. Baekhyun didn’t call Jongdae and that was really alarming, considering that they were used to call each other daily.

Jongdae waited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three in the morning

He jumped off the bed when he heard the ring tone – he wasn’t asleep, of course. Minseok was sleeping next to him but Jongdae was too worried. It reminded him of his first days in that new country, scared of going pretty much anywhere, imagining the worst scenarios. He grabbed the phone and walks out of the room to answer the call.

It was Chanyeol.

“Hey, sorry, it’s late, right?”

“Yes,” Jongdae stared at the open window. “What is it?”

There was a long pause.

“Sorry for not saying anything for the last days,” he said quietly. “It’s been crazy. Wendy broke up with me and I had to find a new place to stay. I didn’t want to startle you.”

Jongdae sat on the couch.

“Why would that startle me?”

Chanyeol’s sigh was loud enough to be heard.

“Do you remember the pictures Kyungsoo took when we were in Rio de Janeiro?” He asked. “I have those. Kyungsoo’s boyfriend is a bit nosy and well… suspicious, so he asked me to keep them.”

Jongdae didn’t say anything – he started to feel cold. The sky was grey outside but there was no sign of rain.

“I… She never touches my things but someone called me for a gig in the US and she was searching for my papers,” he said calmly. “She found the pictures and… well, you know.”

“No, I don’t,” Jongdae said, gulping. “I don’t know anything, Chanyeol.”

“She called Taeyeon, I guess,” Chanyeol kept talking like he was describing a movie, not his own life. “She was crying and throwing things at me, so it was hard to understand. I guess at this point Baekhyun must have been kicked out too. They were waiting for us to return. Did they call your boyfriend?”

“He’s not my boyfriend in the strict sense... and he wouldn’t care,” Jongdae wanted to laugh. Minseok wasn’t interested in anything like a monogamic relationship. “Are you okay?”

It felt too surreal, Jongdae thought. He didn’t know how to react.

“Yeah, I mean, I cried a little, but she’s right, so…” Chanyeol whispered. “I’m staying with a friend. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’m positive. Did Baekhyun call you?”

“No,” Jongdae said and he finally felt the punch. “Oh, god, he didn’t. It must be serious.”

“Don’t call him,” Chanyeol said quickly. “It’ll make things worse; we don’t know what’s going on, after all. Based on the scene that I’ve got here… well, he could be facing the worst things. Give him time.”

“Kyungsoo has left the chat,” Jongdae realized suddenly and he stood up by reflex. “Do you think that…?”

“Look, we all hope not,” Chanyeol said. “But yeah, probably. I mean, they all know each other since last year.”

Jongdae felt like his apartment was twice the size; maybe he was shrinking. He finally understood what that meant. Six years later, six long years. He breathed slowly and said:

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The phone was heavier on his hand and he felt bad for not listening to Chanyeol’s problems and pain but he was about to suffocate. Despite his fast heartbeat, he closed the window and went back to bed, forcing himself to sleep, his skin cold and sweaty next to Minseok's soft and warm one.

They’ve all met officially a year before. For the first time in five years, every single one of them brought a partner to a party. It was Jongdae’s twenty-fourth birthday and he found time and money to go back home, so his parents decided to throw a party. Jongdae felt like an adult for the first time, coming home with his boyfriend, his real-job money and finally graduated. It was a long journey until he was comfortable with that; he grew up with an over-achiever older brother and he preferred to help his family and adapt to their needs than invest in himself.

His mother created something between a kid’s part and a family reunion for him. The cake had his name on him and the house had food for days, but there were no fun things to do besides talking and eating. Minseok was well adjusted, despite being shy around his family, smiling a lot, trying to help. They didn’t call themselves boyfriends – they almost never called themselves like that – but it was clear that they were together.

 

 

 

[31 July 2016]

“Your phone is ringing,” Minseok said while trying to cut the carrots. He wasn’t a good cook nor was Jongdae, so they tried their best. Jongdae had wet hands from washing the vegetable, so he dried his hands on the kitchen cloth and grabbed his phone.

Jongdae gasped loudly.

“Who is it?” Minseok turned back, startled.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae said and ran away from the kitchen with no further explanation. When he got on his room, he answered the call.

“Hello,” he said quickly. “How are you?”

“I got ice on my left eye,” Baekhyun said playfully as nothing happened. “She punched me.”

Jongdae stared at the wall in silence.

“It’s been a couple of days and it still hurts,” he laughed. “It was a good punch. Do you think that they teach that on her Pilates class?”

Sometimes Jongdae couldn’t stand Baekhyun’s coping mechanisms.

“What happened?”

“It’s hilarious, I swear,” he started. “So, it seems like Chanyeol’s girlfriend found the Rio photos because well, Chanyeol had to keep this thing in his mess. And you know her, she’s just too sweet, do you believe that she called Taeyeon in tears because she couldn’t understand ‘art very well’?"

Jongdae couldn’t help but laugh. Yet the thought of pure, sweet Wendy, trying to figure out why there was a bunch of pictures of two dudes (Jongdae being one of them) fucking her boyfriend and thinking that she was the one who couldn’t give meaning to that… it made him feel like shit.

Maybe Baekhyun felt the same because he was serious when he talked again.

“Well, Taeyeon knew what that meant and you know she’s a demon, so she convinced Wendy to shut up and wait until we got back to raise hell,” Baekhyun sighed. “And man, she did it. When I got here, my things were back at my parent’s house. I tried to talk to her and she punched me, which, by the way, I know I deserve, but now everyone knows that something happened and I can’t fucking tell people why my girlfriend got me a black eye.”

Jongdae sighed again, tired.

“This is a nightmare,” he mumbled.

“It’s just starting, my friend, did you notice that Kyungsoo left the chat?”

“Of course, I did.”

“Because my lovely ex-girlfriend had to talk to Jongin and honestly, I’m not even sure how he didn’t even come here to kill me,” Baekhyun laughed again. “You know he’s been wanting to do that for a long time…”

Jongdae rubbed his face. Kyungsoo’s relationship was confusing even for them. He never shared about their life besides that they moved in together. His boyfriend was way too famous, incredibly popular, and despite Kyungsoo having a promising career, something wasn’t healthy about the way they lived. Jongdae met them a few times as a couple and they had to maintain distance, be discreet and reticent about their relationship. Jongdae couldn’t help but think about Yixing and the bulled that he dodged. Though Jongin was different from Yixing in many ways, being not very subtle about his jealousy. He couldn’t stand Baekhyun specifically, which was no surprise due to how touchy he was with Kyungsoo.

“He’s not going to kill you,” Jongdae said. “Did you talk to Kyungsoo?”

“He’s not answering anyone,” Baekhyun said and his voice broke. “Jongdae.”

“Yes.”

“You’re my best friend,” Baekhyun said, too serious. “You wouldn’t lie to me, right?”

“I wouldn’t,” Jongdae swore.

“Do you think that he’s leaving us?” He asked like a little kid.

“I don’t know,” Jongdae said sincerely. When it came to Kyungsoo, they were never sure. Kyungsoo often decided things in silence, surprising everyone around him.

“Did she call your boyfriend?”

“No and it would be fruitless, you know,” Jongdae said. “He wouldn’t mind.”

Baekhyun was in silence for a long moment.

“I don’t know what to do yet,” he finally said, sniffing. “I was planning to propose to her and everything, I guess I won’t… I… can deal with it, I can. It’ll take some time but I’ll get over it. But if I lose you, if I lose any of you, I’ll crumble down.”

“You won’t lose me,” Jongdae said. “I’m your best friend. You’ll never lose me.”

Baekhyun was crying loudly on the other side.

“We have to keep it down,” Jongdae advised. “It needs to remain a secret. We have to be quiet about each other in public, just pretend that it was something between you two.”

“I know,” Baekhyun sniffed again. “I’m doing my best to not draw attention. I’m not even leaving home.”

Jongdae felt bad; suddenly, the distance protected him.

“Chanyeol burned the photos,” Baekhyun said. “Kyungsoo will die when he finds out. He was so proud of—”

“I don’t think that he’ll care about that, Baekhyun. We don’t even know if he’s okay,” Jongdae cut him. “Go sleep, watch something, distract yourself. You can’t keep overthinking while we don’t know what’s going on. You need to calm down, there’s nothing you can do now.”

Jongdae wanted to be next to him, to hug him and make things a little better. With Chanyeol being away and Kyungsoo leaving no trace behind, Baekhyun was facing this all by himself.

“I hate to be scared,” Baekhyun said. “God, I hate it so much.”

“I know,” Jongdae said. “Do you want me to sing a lullaby for you?”

“Yes,” he said. “Please.”

 

 

[4 September 2016]

Chanyeol was walking on the almost-empty street, carrying his gator keyboard case. He was tired but restless after a few coffees and he took the long route to get home. It wasn’t that late when he got to the apartment complex. He took the keys out of his pocket and whistled, thinking about the rescue dog that he was considering adopting.

“Hey.” Someone was sitting on the stairs. “Man.”

Chanyeol looked up and smiled. It was Mark, probably waiting for him.

“Hey, man.” He offered his hand, smiling. Mark was holding a box, so he took Chanyeol’s hand with his left hand.

“You’re cold,” Chanyeol noticed. “Are you okay? Have you been waiting for a long time?”

“Not really,” he answered. “I mean, I haven’t been waiting for long but I’m fine. I’m great.”

“Oh, good,” Chanyeol nodded. “Wanna come in? We can have some beers.”

“Of course,” he replied.

Chanyeol did his best to make the place comfortable for his friend. He had moved in recently and the apartment was taken up by boxes and things that he just bought. At least he had a couch, so Mark could relax a little with his Budweiser.

“So, what’s up?” Chanyeol threw himself on the couch. It was worth the money.

“I brought this.” Mark pointed to the box, now on the floor. “It’s yours.”

“I thought I hadn’t left anything in your house?” Chanyeol frowned.

“You didn’t,” Mark gulped, rubbing his fingers on his jeans. “Wendy left it at my house yesterday.”

“Oh,” Chanyeol mumbled. He stared at his own beer, nodding.

“She said it was just a few things that she found recently,” he explained quickly, breaking the silence. “She looks fine, you know. She dyed her hair blonde again.”

“Well,” Chanyeol drank from the bottle and licked his lips. “Thanks for that, man. Sorry if you keep being pushed into this mess.”

“It’s nothing, I’m more worried about you two.” He let out a nervous laugh. “How’s the place here? Is it nice?”

“Yeah, really cool.” Chanyeol looked around, even if he was inside his own home. “I’m getting used to living alone. I’m going to get a dog one of these days.”

Mark was inspecting the place with his bright eyes.

“I honestly thought you would leave the country,” he confessed. “I’m surprised that you want to be here.”

“Going back to Seoul would make me sad,” Chanyeol shrugged. “When I get enough money, I’ll be able to move to Japan.”

Mark smiled, satisfied.

“Want to hear the songs I composed?” Chanyeol offered. Mark was a music nerd just like him and despite their age difference, they didn’t have trouble talking and understanding each other.

“You’ve been writing a lot, right?” Mark asked. “I listened to a song on your Soundcloud, I liked it a lot.”

“Yes, I have,” Chanyeol said. “I think that I can express my feelings better when I’m writing. I can feel less sad or anxious when I finish the song. It’s just… it’s so hard to say the right things face-to-face.”

“I know,” Mark nodded, raising his beer in a sympathetic gesture. “But are you feeling sad because of the break-up?”

Chanyeol rubbed his eyes, thinking about the immensity of events that were related to something so simple as a break-up. Baekhyun’s moodiness, Jongdae’s distance, Kyungsoo’s ghosting. The way he didn’t want to visit his parents and face his hometown again, even if none of them knew how deep the problem was.

“Not because of the break-up-I know how to heal my heart,” he finally said. “It’s because of the consequences. I didn’t want to make her sad, she doesn’t deserve it. She’s just nice and I’ve tried to be the best boyfriend that she could have, but it was bound to end since the start. I knew I was going to disappoint her one day…”

“Everyone makes mistakes, Chanyeol. You don’t have to be perfect or the best person.”

It was a hard lesson to learn, Chanyeol thought.

 

 

[20 September 2016]

Jongdae was waiting for Minseok to come to pick him at the University. He waved at few people on his way, walking down the stairs that led to the main gate. He had promised himself that he wouldn’t get more books to read because he had plenty of things to do, but when he couldn’t resist a nice cover. He stopped to tie his Converse’s laces and someone stood next to him. Jongdae looked up.

“Hello,” Yixing said.

He didn’t have changed a thing, Jongdae thought. Same hairstyle, same white-shirt-and-blue-jeans from fancy brands, though they were wearing the exact same shoes.

“Hello,” Jongdae stood up and smiled, heart beating fast. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“I’m glad,” he said softly. “I’m happy that I found you. Your birthday is soon, right?”

“Yes,” Jongdae nodded. “Tomorrow.”

“Happy birthday,” he sang. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, healthy and happier,” Jongdae answered. “How about you?”

“I’m doing fine too,” Yixing touched his arm gently. He was always touchy and warm.

“How’s the music thing?” He asked casually. “I heard you moved to the States.”

“For a while,” Yixing nodded. “Now I’m officially living in Korea, mostly. I mean, I live in hotels, not… a house, at this point. It doesn’t bother me, of course.”

“I’m glad,” Jongdae was sincere.

“Are you finishing your masters?”

“Pretty much. I still got a couple of months.”

“Are you going to apply for a Ph.D.?”

Jongdae gulped, thinking about the past months. About Baekhyun’s anxious late-night calls, Chanyeol’s random and chaotic videocalls playing songs in his new and desert apartment and Kyungsoo’s deep, brutal silence.

“Not right now,” he said firmly. “I miss my family and friends. My loved ones come first, so I’ll spend some time with them before I decide anything.”

Yixing was disconcerted, of course.

“My brother got married,” Jongdae said quickly, trying to avoid any awkward energy between them. “I’ll be an uncle soon.”

“Congratulations,” Yixing smiled. “Are you going home? I can give you a ride. I was just here to get some papers signed.”

“Thanks,” Jongdae waved his hands, embarrassed. “My boyfriend is going to pick me up.”

Yixing looked defeated but he was kind to nod and say:

“I hope I see you again,” he smiled. “Soon.”

 

 

 

 

[26 September 2016]

“It really doesn’t make sense that he didn’t share it… I knew he wouldn’t tell earlier because he didn’t want you to fly all the way back here just to see him in a uniform and then disappear, especially after you traveled together to Japan,” she said softly, still confused. “He made sure to spend time with all his friends - he even visited your mother, Chanyeol.”

“It’s been a month already, auntie?” Chanyeol gulped, trying to breathe.

“I guess it has, honey. I’m sorry. I remember that when the list came out, Kyungsoo was really relieved that he would have time to be with you three. He really loves you, his best friends. I knew he would have to do it one day and I think that he could’ve waited, but he said that he was able to do it now since his name was well-established and he wasn’t, you know, dating anyone.” Chanyeol could hear her tone and the words were heavy with concern.

“So he’s been planning this for a while, right?”

“Absolutely, my dear. You know Kyungsoo, he likes to be prepared… he takes everything so seriously. I’m just hurt that he didn’t tell you about it. I was certain that he would inform you… did you say that none of you knew?”

“Yes, auntie. We were worried. He didn’t answer messages—”

“Ah, they didn’t allow them to use their phones in the first month, I think. He’s not talking to me either.”

“Well, but you knew why, auntie,” Chanyeol pouted, anger finally erupting. “We were in the dark! He didn’t tell us anything!”

“You’re right, that wasn’t nice of him. Kyungsoo has this terrible habit of not sharing things."  She was empathetic as always. “I think that he was worried about something -  I think it was Baekhyun, not sure. He was very worried about something before he left and he threw so many things away! I was surprised. I thought that something happened to you, maybe a fight? So I didn’t want to ask. He doesn’t like it.”

“That’s okay, auntie. I’m happy that he’s fine.”

“One of his friends keeps coming here, god, I never get his name right, which is weird. I think that he’s an actor, such a pretty boy, I’m sure I watched a drama that—he didn’t know either, poor boy. He said that Kyungsoo hasn’t spoken to him lately, he looked sad. But you’re his best friend, so you see, I’m also surprised. I’m sure you know more about him than me!”

She laughed and it was cute but Chanyeol was angry and frustrated; he couldn’t appreciate it.

“Thanks for telling me, auntie. I miss you. I’ll be back in November, so maybe I could visit you? Not your son, that asshole. He can rot in that place.”

She giggled, amused.

“Ah, don’t be mad at him, Chanyeol-yah! I’m sure that Kyungsoo has a reason for his actions and he cares about you so much! He always says that you’re his best, best friend!”

“I see. Bye, auntie.”

“Bye honey!”

Chanyeol stared at his phone, tired. He knew he would be disappointed when he found out why Kyungsoo disappeared, but well, it was way too much. He shouldn’t have called, maybe. Of course, nothing bad had happened, otherwise, he would know it immediately. But then Jongdae said that Kyungsoo didn’t even send a happy birthday note and it wasn’t something that he ever forgot; Kyungsoo cared, he had a good heart. Chanyeol was insanely mad at him, of course, but that was temporary.

 

pcy: kyungsoo enlisted last month

pcy: I heard from his mother rn

pcy: she said that he’s fine and healthy

bbh: he ENLISTED????????????????

bbh: wth

bbh: can we do shit like that so easily????

kjd: No

pcy: he’s been planning for months

pcy: the list was out before we went to japan

pcy: apparently, he just had miraculously good timing for that

bbh: well damn

bbh: good for him

kjd: Ah, I see. He sent me a happy bday message this morning

bbh: HE DID???????????

kjd: Yes, a simple one like every year. A few days late, but.

pcy: they gave back his phone, then

pcy: he didn’t have access to phones this month I think

bbh: what did you say to him

kjd: Thank you

bbh: and?

kjd: I love you, take care.

bbh: just that?

kjd: Yes.

kjd: I’m not going to pressure him into talking when he doesn’t want it.

kjd: Kyungsoo is a responsible man. If he wanted to talk, he would.

kjd: By the way, when is your flight, Chanyeol?

pcy: 20 november, 10pm

kjd: I think that I’ll be only able to go in December.

pcy: are you sure that you didn’t want us to go and watch your presentation?

kjd: No, it’s going to be boring.

kjd: Also, it would be a huge amount of money to watch me talking for a hour and then being eaten alive for another.

pcy: nah, it sounds great

bbh: you can watch with me, he’ll skype the whole thing

pcy: good

bbh: did auntie said anything else about kyungsoo?

bbh: I feel like I’m the only one in the dark

pcy: I think his bf didn’t know about his enlistment either   

pcy: and they’re not dating anymore

bbh: not surprised though happy to know he’s in the same situation

bbh: fuck him

pcy: kyungsoo was worried about you

pcy: but auntie didn’t know why

kjd: But we do.

 

 

 

[19 November 2016]

The man was staring at him, completely shocked.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know that you had a degree.” He was really impressed. “You can do pretty much everything here.”

“Or anywhere,” Mark pointed out, leaning on the door. “I told you, Chanyeol knows every step to running a bar, a music studio, a home décor office, a gym… he’s just a genius.”

“Hey, hey, I’m not,” Chanyeol smiled. “Thank you for your compliments. What’s your name again?”

“Sehun,” the man smiled. He was insanely attractive, Chanyeol thought and then felt ashamed. There was no reason to, of course, but most people in Canada thought that he was straight, except Juhyun, Wendy’s best friend, and he was used to acting like that. When he was around his girlfriend, he genuinely didn’t care about other hot people around him.

But, well, now he was single. He could at least check them out.

“Nice to meet you, man,” he said. “I’m looking for a partner… to have my own place, I mean. My own professional place. Like an office. You get it, right?”

Mark and Sehun laughed at his discomfort.

“Good,” Sehun said. “I’m still thinking about trying an artistic career. I trained for a long time, back in Korea, since I was a kid. It didn’t work out well.”

“You should try,” Mark said. “It’s never too late to chase your dreams.”

“I can talk to you after I come back, I’m going back home for my birthday,” Chanyeol said. “We can discuss it more then.”

“That would be nice,” Sehun nodded.

Mark took Chanyeol to the bus stop. It wasn’t too late at night, but Chanyeol had to start packing immediately. He had plenty of things to do and he should’ve packed a long time ago.

“Your friend is nice,” Chanyeol said.

“He liked you,” Mark smiled. “Sehun is usually super shy.”

They stopped next to the sign. It was cold, terribly cold, and it would be even colder in a few weeks, but Chanyeol would be far away. The street lights were shining on his face like the day he was in Toronto for the first time.

“Maybe I won’t be back,” he said.

“What?” Mark asked. “Where?”

Chanyeol blinked.

“Nothing,” Chanyeol smiled. “Just thinking out loud.”

He listened to new songs on his way home. After a long night of packing, he slept in and got ready for the long day that was waiting for him. He didn’t overdress, he just put the suitcases next to the door and left.

He could walk there, but it was too cold, so he called a taxi.

Chanyeol didn’t even have time to search for her. Sitting casually on the grey stair, there she was. He wasn’t sure if she would come, after all. It was a relief. They used to come to the museum, to take nice pictures and chat. Chanyeol missed those fun days too.

She was checking her phone, arms resting on her knees, hair in a tiny bun that could only hold half of her short hair. We’re strangers now, Chanyeol realized sadly. She would avoid him at places, not know anything about his life… breakups were like that and he was just learning.

He sat next to her, not near enough to invade her personal space but not too far.

“Hey,” he said.

Wendy stared at him, serious.

“Hello.”

“How are you?” He asked politely, mirroring her; his giant sneakers next to her black boots.

“Okay, and you?” She didn’t have any particular emotion in her voice.

“Fine,” he nodded. “I received the package. Thank you for not… breaking those things or throwing them away.”

“Sorry for breaking your things,” Wendy said quickly. “I was really angry and I know that breaking things is just a petty and dumb thing to do.”

“I don’t care about a couple of vases or souvenirs,” Chanyeol smiled sadly. “If you felt like that, you were right to do it.”

“What do you want?” she asked impatiently. “I have things to do and you said that it wasn’t going to take long.”

“I wanted to explain one thing to you." He looked down. “I didn’t have time to talk that day—”

“Nothing that you say will fix things between us,” she said firmly. She had no makeup on her eyes but she wore dark red lipstick, which was unusual.

“I know, I’m just asking you to listen,” he said carefully. “I just want you to understand what happened. I said it was going to be short, and today I’m leaving to be with my parents for… a month or so.”

She side-eyed him, probably suspicious. She was right to do so.

“I’m listening.”

He took a deep breath.

“I lost my virginity when I was nineteen… to my friends,” he said, straight to the point. “Yeah, those friends.”

She looked at him, slightly surprised.

“We’ve been together since,” Chanyeol said. “And we’ll probably be together forever.”

“What do you mean ‘together’?” she asked, confused.

“It means that we love each other in a romantic way, though we have rules for that,” Chanyeol said. “It doesn’t happen all the time. Since we started dating, once in a year.”

Wendy was gaping and frowning.

“I know it sounds weird and that’s the reason why we don’t tell people. Even if we want to, imagine how they would react,” Chanyeol smiled again. “So we adapted our relationship. We got other partners. We live our life. And you saw a picture of us… like couples do? I mean. It’s kind of normal today.”

She gulped, looking down.

“Do they know? The others?”

“We don’t tell people. We can’t tell people,” Chanyeol repeated calmly. “I shouldn’t be sharing this but you already know about it so you deserve the truth.”

“So it’s been like… six years?” She counted on her fingers. “This has been happening for six years?”

“Yes,” Chanyeol nodded slowly.

“Have you been with anyone else?” She turned to him. “Since we started to date?”

“No,” Chanyeol frowned.

She rubbed her legs, eyes closed. He stared at the grass outside, almost white. Some people were walking and talking a few meters away from them.

“It made me feel bad… to see those pictures,” she said. “I was convinced that you were cheating on me with everyone, including our friends. I thought that I was becoming confident but I questioned myself. If I was enough… if it was my fault… if you didn’t love me at all.”

“I love you,” he said without thinking. “Sorry. It’s true.”

She wasn’t angry.

“How can you love me and be with someone else?” She sounded genuinely curious.

“I love them too,” Chanyeol shrugged. “It’s not that hard. I have a big heart.”

“You cheated on me, Chanyeol.” She was deadly serious. “And I had to see it. Those pictures… they haunt me.”

“I won’t discuss that because you won’t understand. ” Chanyeol stretched, feeling cold. “I’m not here to convince you to think the way I do, but you’re right to be angry because I hid it from you. I hope you can forgive me one day.”

“I won’t forget,” she said, way too calm. “It’s going to be hard for me to get over it.”

He stood up, resigned, and started to leave. There was nothing he could say or do to change what happened.

“Chanyeol,” she called him.

He turned back.

“I just now realized that your… friends… must have felt bad when we started to date,” she said, thoughtful as always. “I didn’t know why I never felt welcomed by them but… I wished things had happened differently.”

“Me too,” he said before waving goodbye.

 

 

 

 

[28 November 2016]

Chanyeol woke up a bit happier. He had tons of good things to do and there was still cake from last night, when his mother decided to throw a surprise party for him. Chanyeol was – and he knew it very well – a lucky man. He had everything that someone needed to be satisfied. He stretched in his old bed, smiling at the posters on his wall, and pulled out his phone from under the pillow. He had tons of messages to answer and he hadn’t had time to check them all.

He heard people talking at the door and yawned, tired. He didn’t want to leave the bed yet, despite it being an exciting day. He was a bit tired from the last few days when he had wandered from one friend’s house to another, went out to eat, and helped his family with whatever he was able to.

The door opened and the lights from the other room made him blink several times.

“I think he’s still sleeping,” his mother said and he realized that she wasn’t alone. “I’ll bring breakfast for both of you.”

“I already ate at the camp,” Kyungsoo said. “But thank you, Auntie.”

“Ah, you complain about their food,” she laughed. “Of course, I’m going to feed you.”

Chanyeol didn’t move for a second; his brain worked slower in the mornings, hardly adapting to reality. When he finally understood that Kyungsoo was there, in his room, he jumped out of the bed.

Kyungsoo turned the lights on.

“Fuck,” Chanyeol said, almost breathless.

Kyungsoo was bald.

“Hello,” he smiled. “Happy birthday.”

Chanyeol stared at him, head to toe. He looked healthy, though a bit skinny, dressed in his old black clothes and a denim jacket.

“What the fuck.” Chanyeol rubbed his eyes, words stuck in his throat. It wasn’t a dream, after all.

“Sorry I couldn’t come yesterday,” he said, picking the clothes up off the floor so he could walk. “I only have the weekend. And it’s not always. Hope you had fun…”

He was cleaning the mess like he was the same tidy teenager as when they had sleepovers. The memory seemed to wake Chanyeol up, the situation exploding in pictures inside his head.

“What’s going on?” He asked. “Why are you here? Why the fuck did you enlist? When were you going to tell us? Why aren’t you talking to us? Why did you leave the chat?”

Kyungsoo didn’t seem to be affected by the wave of questions. He simply made his way to Chanyeol’s bed and sat on the corner, hands on his lap.

“Chanyeol, I’m sorry.”

Seeing his friend’s eyes so sad melted Chanyeol’s anger.

“What happened?”

Kyungsoo looked around; he knew that room very well, there was nothing new.

“I guess we know what happened,” he said.

“I know what happened to me.” Chanyeol lost his temper, pointing a finger. “I know what happened to Baekhyun and Jongdae. Do you know what happened, Kyungsoo? Do you, really? Because we know nothing about you.”

Kyungsoo was still silent.

“I had to call your mother to find out where you were,” Chanyeol kept gesturing wildly. “Baekhyun was desperate, dying to hear about you. We crossed the hardest moment of our lives and where the fuck were you? Huh?”

“I was trying to clean up the mess,” Kyungsoo said, staring into his eyes. “Before things went too far.”

That startled Chanyeol.

“It was my fault,” Kyungsoo said. “I shouldn’t have asked you to keep those pictures. It was going to end badly. I knew it.”

“It was my fault too,” Chanyeol gulped. “I could’ve said no.”

“I was planning to enlist this year, it’s true, but I was going to tell you as soon as you were all back to your routines,” he sighed. “I didn’t want you to be angry about it or change any plans because of me. I wasn’t expecting this to happen, so I had to improvise.”

“What did you do?” Chanyeol was scared.

“I erased all the things that could be… dangerous to keep. I made sure to shut down some people who were talking about Baekhyun. No one knows what really happened, of course, but they… I had to find ways to keep it down. Cutting you off was one of them.” Kyungsoo sounded hurt. “I talked to Taeyeon in person.”

“What?” Chanyeol almost screamed.

“She thought I was still dating,” he explained. “I wasn’t. I always break up… or keep a distance before we travel. I can’t live a double life.”

The two couldn’t face each other for a moment. Guilt.

“She failed to contact him—he was mad and didn’t want to listen to her… actually, he doesn’t want to believe her words for now, so she talked to me instead,” Kyungsoo said simply. “We made a deal. She’s not telling anyone, the subject is dead. It’s in the past.”

“A deal requires things from both sides,” Chanyeol argued.

“I told her everything,” Kyungsoo admitted. “She trusts me more than any of you, I think. I guess it’s because we’re not really close. It was easier to tell those things… even if we didn’t talk because… she was hurt. They were hurt. We did a bad thing, even if we didn’t want to.”

“I understand,” Chanyeol nodded.

“I’m sorry to keep you in the dark, I really am, but I didn’t want you to worry.” He looked at Chanyeol with fondness, teary-eyed. “It’s been rough but I knew this would happen one day. In my mind, the enlistment could slow things down… could push this day a little further. We knew it couldn’t last forever the way it was, you know it.”

Kyungsoo was being sincere and Chanyeol couldn’t deny it while seeing him baring his heart like he never had before. And he was also probably right, despite the fact that Chanyeol wanted to argue, to fight him.

“Delete the chat,” Kyungsoo said. “Avoid interacting in public. I can’t travel for a year and a half, anyway.”

“That would be weird.” Chanyeol was offended. “People know we’re close.”

“We just have to be less close,” he added quite gently. “Just old teenage friends who have a hard time keeping in touch in adult life like we’re supposed to be. Together in important events only.”

“I don’t like that.” Chanyeol felt like crying.

“I know she broke up with you, I’m sorry for not being there for you,” he said quietly. “Find another partner or look like you’re ready to mingle.”

Chanyeol wanted to leave the room; this conversation was worse than the last few months when he could still hold on to an imaginary future. He couldn’t stop shaking his legs and swallowing nervously.

“I’m not a robot, Kyungsoo. I can’t just pretend to be fine.”

“If we don’t fix what’s wrong now, then we won’t even have the option of being friends,” Kyungsoo said. “I really thought that at this point you all had realized that.”

Jongdae probably did, Chanyeol thought. Baekhyun would probably be resisting the truth, being as stubborn as Chanyeol was.

The door opened and Chanyeol sat up straight, surprised. Kyungsoo was expressionless for a second and, then, in the most impressive acting scene Chanyeol had ever seen, he smiled fondly at Chanyeol’s mother as if they were talking about video games, not the shittiest moment of their lives.

“Oh, is it a bad time?” She asked.

“No,” Kyungsoo said. “Your son is just complaining that I don’t talk to him, as always.”

“Ah, he does that a lot,” she said. “But isn’t it nice that you’re here? I bet you don’t have much free time now.”

“I don’t,” Kyungsoo agreed gently. “But we always make time for our friends.”

 

 

 

[12 December 2016]

 

pcy has left the chat

kjd has left the chat

bbh has left the chat

 

 

 

 

[29 December 2016]

He looked behind the lens to see the target. His fingers were in position; the memory of the gun in his hands was too real, he would never forget that—

Kyungsoo was still zoning out when he received the message. The other men in his dorm were sleeping or watching dramas together. He hadn’t slept right in a while and he was lucky that he was still able to use the phone when Chanyeol sent it. Soon it would be time to give his phone back and be forced to sleep.

 

PARK CHANYEOL: Important event

 

Kyungsoo read it and rubbed his face, trying to calm down.

 

PARK CHANYEOL: Jongdae & his boyfriend are in town, they want all of us to attend his family new years party

PARK CHANYEOL: he says it’s nothing fancy, just drinks and music

PARK CHANYEOL: I CALLED YOUR MOTHER SO DON’T LIE I KNOW YOU CAN GO

PARK CHANYEOL: I know you have to leave early, just say hello and we’ll be fine

PARK CHANYEOL: Baekhyun really wants to see you

PARK CHANYEOL: please

 

Kyungsoo sighed, sitting on his bed. The days were shorter when he was in the camp. Everything was different and heavier, in deep dark colors.

 

DOH KYUNGSOO: I’ll see what I can do

 

 Chanyeol didn’t send anything else. He was still angry about the whole thing. At this point, Kyungsoo wasn’t angry about anything. He was just surviving another day. He closed his hands. Maybe he should be more excited to shoot with something else other than a camera.

 

 

[31 December 2016]

Kyungsoo was finishing his hamburger when he got home, walking slowly, staring at everyone. Every time that he was able to leave, even if it was less than a day, he felt incredibly alive. Being a soldier was a way to escape the strong pressure of his career and private life and that was what he was looking for, but he wasn’t ready for losing simple pleasures like eating junk food for lunch and walking in the neighborhood all by himself. He threw the empty paper bag and the napkins away, ignoring his phone. He wanted to surprise his mother so he grabbed his keys, tiptoeing in the garden.

“Hey,” someone said.

Kyungsoo looked back, startled, raising fists. It was an instant reaction – luckily for him, Jongin was still crossing the street. Kyungsoo relaxed a little, just a little.

“What are you doing here?” Kyungsoo walked to him, trying not to be loud. Jongin was wearing casual clothes as he had just gone to buy groceries, hair pushed back, and black sneakers.

“Waiting for you,” he said, serious. “You don’t pick up your phone anymore.”

“I’m trying to focus on my service,” Kyungsoo said. “Why didn’t you go in? My mother seems very familiar with your face now.”

Kyungsoo knew very well that Jongin was visiting his family, which was weird since he never did that when they were actually dating. They had broken up so many times that none of them were mad about it anymore, but the photographer suspected that his ex was mad about the lack of communication – like everyone else.

“It was about time,” Jongin shrugged. “She’s gentle and seemed to raise you well, not her fault that you’re a slippery asshole.”

“What do you want?” Kyungsoo asked, tired.

“Don’t give me this cold treatment,” Jongin walked closer and Kyungsoo stepped back as a habit since they were in plain sight. “You didn’t even tell me you were enlisting. I thought it was just a regular break-up.”

It was supposed to be funny. Kyungsoo frowned, annoyed.

“I don’t owe you anything,” he said calmly. “We’re no longer dating and please don’t convince my mother of that, she’ll believe it.”

Jongin’s sarcastic smile died on his face.

“You really think that you just need to say goodbye and then, turn off feelings, everything is over… that’s not how things happen, Kyungsoo. People aren’t pieces that you move on your chessboard,” Jongin said, and now he showed his angst. “Should I be happy that you did me the favor of breaking up so we could move on with our lives? Do I look like I can move on that easily, just because you have decided that this time you don’t want me back?”

Kyungsoo didn’t say anything, thinking about Chanyeol’s tears and Baekhyun’s endless messages.

“Should I be grateful that you broke up with me before packing your things to go to your stupid honeymoon with your ‘friend’?” Jongin said slowly, giving Kyungsoo chills from pure fear. “Is that how I’m supposed to act?”

Kyungsoo couldn’t breathe. He unconsciously looked over his shoulder to see if someone was around. Jongin wasn’t supposed to know anything – Taeyeon said he hung up on her as soon as he heard their names and that she would never speak about it again.

“Why are you telling me this? Did you hear from Ta—”

“She didn’t have to say a word,” Jongin smiled sadly. “I know why a reasonable woman would punch her boyfriend in the face and kick him out. She noticed that too late, right? I knew from the start. Poor girl, she was really shaken. I wasn’t, you know. I know when you’re lying to me and I know that you two are lovers.”

Kyungsoo wanted to laugh; he was so right and so wrong. Yet he didn’t.

“We’re not,” he gulped. “It’s over.”

Jongin seemed confused, moving his head. His eyes had that deep staring look as if he was searching for lies – this time, there were none.

“You broke up with both of us?” he asked as if he couldn’t believe it. “It’s even worse than I thought. What do you think you’re doing?”

Something that’s not working, Kyungsoo thought.

“Please go,” he said weakly. “I’m here to spend time with my family. You’re not invited.”

They were both about to cry in the middle of the street. Before, it was so peaceful, and Kyungsoo felt immensely guilty. He had heard about how his friends’ relationships ended so violently and how sad they were and it felt like reading fiction – now it was happening to him and he couldn’t stop picturing each of them.

Jongin held him and kissed him. Kyungsoo’s body went tense. It was risky and shocking, of course. Besides, he had never kissed in public like that, he wasn’t used to that type of affection. Years of hiding, calculating, tensing, worrying hit him and he started to cry, shaking in his ex’s arms.

“I’m sorry,” Kyungsoo whispered against his mouth. “I’m sorry.”

He was wrong—no, it went wrong. Kyungsoo thought that he could avoid the fall of his house of cards by cutting them out earlier, by giving them a break, but it was too late. Now everyone was affected, everyone was paying for their mistakes, and no one was happy.

“I know,” Jongin hugged him tightly. “I know you’re not that cold.”

Kyungsoo knew that they should stop touching and go inside but he simply couldn’t stop crying. It felt liberating, like the first time he put his glasses on or when he lost his virginity, and he was so tired of being strong.

“At this point, I just want our old life back,” Jongin confessed. “I’m not even mad at you anymore.”

“Let me,” Kyungsoo broke their hug and wiped his face. “We shouldn’t be here, we should—let’s—”

“You can take a minute,” he said. “You don’t want your mother to see you like this. She’ll think that it’s my fault.”

Kyungsoo relaxed, massaging his own neck.

“We have to talk,” Kyungsoo whispered. “I have to… explain…”

He deserved the truth, Kyungsoo concluded. It was the right thing to do after all that happened and at this point, he couldn’t hide anymore.

“I think Chanyeol is here,” Jongin pointed.

Kyungsoo reacted way too fast, eyes on the car stopping next to them. It couldn’t be possible – what absolute bad timing was this? Kyungsoo didn’t even explain himself; he rushed to the car even before Chanyeol had finished parking.

“Go away,” he pleaded, lowering his voice. Chanyeol was driving and Jongdae was in the passenger’s seat, both staring at him as they had just seen a ghost.

“We came to pick you, we called—” Chanyeol said, confused. “What’s wrong?”

Jongdae seemed worried.

“Are you crying?” he asked, grabbing the seatbelt. Kyungsoo leaned into the car, anxious.

“Please leave,” he begged. “I can go to your party later. I’ll explain everything but not now.”

The two were frozen, not saying a word. The back door opened.

“Like I’ll let you disappear again,” Baekhyun said, leaving the car. “Why are you crying?”

Kyungsoo’s sight was blurred and it had nothing to do with his astigmatism. His hands were cold and he tried to speak clearly.

“Get back in,” he repeated. “Leave, this is not good.”

“Is he in danger?” a voice asked from inside of the car; it sounded like Jongdae’s boyfriend but Kyungsoo wasn’t sure. Kyungsoo looked back and Jongin was still in the same spot, looking at them, just a few meters from the car.

“I’m not,” Kyungsoo said quickly. “I’m in the middle of something.”

Chanyeol noticed how seriously he spoke and nodded. Jongdae was just alert.

“Come back in, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol ordered, hands on the steering wheel. “We’ll talk to him later.”

Baekhyun was standing behind the open door. He looked skinnier, older and different than he was months ago. Kyungsoo was happy that he got to see them all again even if it was such a bad moment. He truly loved them, he realized. There was a part of him that only existed when they were together - he could have a full life without them and it would be still missing.

“You made a choice,” Baekhyun said, too serious. “And it’s not us. After all this time, you left us.”

“Please,” Kyungsoo asked again. “I can’t discuss that now.”

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol said firmly. “Get the fuck in.”

Jongin went over to them, which was predictable. He didn’t look at the car, just stared at Baekhyun’s face.

“Leave,” he said dryly. He looked threatening like he never had before.

“Fuck you,” Baekhyun said and his voice broke. Chanyeol unbuckled his seatbelt and left the car.

“You really want another black eye,” Jongin said before Chanyeol even reached them; it pushed Baekhyun’s buttons, of course.

“You’re just a replacement,” Baekhyun said angrily.

Jongin moved like he wanted to kill Baekhyun and Kyungsoo jumped to stop him. Chanyeol was the most agile, pulling Baekhyun back in just a second. Jongdae opened the door and it separated the two pairs by accident.

“What are you doing?” Jongdae asked, shocked. “Have you two lost your mind?”

Kyungsoo was just reacting at this point.

“Get in,” he whispered to Jongin. “Get inside and tell my mother that I’m coming.”

Jongin stared at him, confused.

“Please,” Kyungsoo begged. “I’ll be there in five minutes, I promise you.”

Jongin stared at Baekhyun again but nodded, walking slowly like he was expecting something to happen. As soon as he disappeared, Kyungsoo sighed.

“Are you okay?” Jongdae asked, reaching to him. Kyungsoo accepted his hug, breathing deeply.

“Having the worst day,” Kyungsoo mumbled.

“Are you coming with us?” Chanyeol asked quietly. “Do you… need help?”

Kyungsoo stared at the man in the car and Jongdae noticed it.

“It’s fine,” Jongdae said gently. “He’s okay with it.”

Kyungsoo looked at his friends and he felt like crying again but he repressed his urge.

“I can’t go to the party,” he said. “It’s too late. Aren’t you tired?”

It wasn’t like it sounded – casual. He meant something else.

“We agreed that we’re friends,” Chanyeol said. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Baekhyun wasn’t staring at him, clearly pissed.

“I need to rest,” Kyungsoo said. “I need a longer break. They only give me a day and I thought that a day is just fine but it’s not. If we don’t rest enough, there will be not enough energy in the future.”

He was being vague on purpose, of course. They knew what he meant.

“I understand,” Jongdae said. “Go home and rest, Kyungsoo. You deserve it.”

Chanyeol was expressionless as if he was finally realizing something. He looked at Kyungsoo and blinked a few times.

“Maybe a New Years’ Party is not important enough… it’s not really a holiday, and you must be tired,” he said. “When would be a good moment?”

Kyungsoo stared at Baekhyun, trying to think.

“Birthdays are nice,” he said.

“Birthday parties, I see,” Chanyeol nodded. “But they have a lot of people, right? One day we’ll have time to be just the four of us.”

“Yes,” Kyungsoo said. “One day.”

“Maybe an anniversary,” Jongdae suggested. “It’s an important date for the four of us.”

Kyungsoo nodded.

“Go home,” Chanyeol said. “Take a nap. We’re still best friends, no matter what.”

“Thank you,” Kyungsoo said. “And I’m sorry.”

“Go,” Jongdae said, smiling. “He’ll be fine.”

Baekhyun didn’t say anything. Kyungsoo wished he could say the exact thing to express how much he felt but that wasn’t possible.

 He whispered,

“We should go out for coffee,” and left.

 

 

 

 

[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.”

 

 

[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.

 

 

 

 

 

[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.

 

 

 

 

[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.

 

 

 

[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.”

 

 

 

[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 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.”

 

 

 

 

[29 April 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.”

 

 

 

 

[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.