Soonyoung hushes Chan’s voice down the end of the phone as if everyone around him in the store can hear his best friend yelling. That, of course, is not the case, and he can’t help but let the smile forming on his lips spread across his entire face, his heart aflutter at the image now placed in his head. He holds the phone to his shoulder pressed against his cheek as he picks up a patterned shirt, holding it out in his many attempts to find something suitable for his dinner that evening.
“Well, he hasn’t exactly said so himself,” Soonyoung frowns at the shirt and decides it’s far too ugly as he places it back on a hanger, just adjacent from where it had originally been; he completely ignores the annoyed look from the staff member watching him from a few feet away – they shouldn’t moan, he thinks, they should be grateful to sort clothes back onto the correct hangers seeing as that’s their job. “Obviously. But every time he’s looked at me this week there’s just something in his eyes…”
“Proposal eyes?” Soonyoung hums in agreement of the term, picking up another shirt before putting it back with a shake of his head. Too cheap. “You think he’s going to do it tonight?”
Soonyoung pauses in his tracks and runs his palm over his flushed cheek. “He invited me out to dinner at that fancy new restaurant that only just opened up last month, so it must be, right? We never go out to places like that … It’s got to be there.”
“I can’t believe this is happening… You and Jihoon actually married… And I thought you were only going to last until the summer after senior year of high school. But here you are at twenty-one and he’s officially become the person you have dated the longest.”
“What did I tell you, Chan? Jihoon is the one.”
He can’t tell if the sigh down the phone that matches his own is sarcastic or in genuine happiness for him, but Soonyoung can hear the muffled voices of his other friends in the background as he grabs more clothes from a shelf. With two shirts and a pair of fancy trousers slung over his arm, he makes his way to the dressing rooms to try them on.
“I can’t believe you’re actually going out of your way to get dressed up for this! When was the last time you bought new clothes?” Soonyoung tuts because he knows Chan knows the answer. The two of them have been best friends since they were eleven and ten respectively, but he is in too much of a good mood to bark back at him the reason.
Shutting the curtain once a spritely staff member shows him to the stall, Soonyoung places the clothes on an empty stool before kicking off his worn out converse. “Two years ago, maybe three? Unless you count that one-off time I got gifted a sweater by my aunt for Christmas.”
“Then three years ago.”
“Poor Jihoon.” Chan laughs and Soonyoung is suddenly reminded of the reason he gladly refused to invite his friend along.
“Hey, he cares more about me as a person than what I wear.”
“Poor, poor Jihoon.” The boy repeats.
With a final shake of his head, Soonyoung loosens the belt of his jeans and pulls the phone away from his ear. “Whatever, I’ll be back at the house in an hour to get ready and I’ll talk to you guys then.”
With a final few words muttered, the boys end the call and Soonyoung shimmies off his clothes to try on the pieces he’s selected from the store – which, he has now realised, is slightly above his usual budget. By about, a couple of hundred dollars. Despite this, they’re nothing too fancy, certainly more so than the plain items he has piled up in his wardrobe back home – muscle tees and t-shirts galore.
He runs a hand through his recently dyed grey hair and decides he likes the white button-up shirt with an array of repeating faces decorating it; it’s smart casual, and definitely the type of ‘I know you’re proposing, but I can’t let you know that I know you’re proposing’ look he’s going for. He’s got to leave Jihoon at least a smidgen of pride. Slipping back into his usual outfit he feels the same butterflies he’s had in his stomach all week dance about inside him, fluttering up his spine and sending an elated chill all through his body.
You see, Soonyoung is in love. He’s never felt the way he feels about Jihoon with anyone else: not Christine from middle school whom he proclaimed his love for thirty minutes into “dating”, not Moon Bin who had moved away over their second summer of high school and he swore he would never get over. No one knew him or matched him as well as the smaller boy he had met during their sophomore end of year party.
Jihoon is smart and patient, and the only person who can put up with Soonyoung when he calls him at three in the morning to talk about the latest show he’s just finished binging on Netflix, because the boy is probably up himself reading for their classes over the upcoming weeks. Soonyoung talks too much; Jihoon fills in the spaces when he pauses to breathe. The grey-haired boy knows they balance each other better than that one astrological sign with the scales he doesn’t remember the name of.
Which is why, when Soonyoung gets back to his fraternity house that evening, he can’t shut up when talking to his friends about how life is going to be when he’s married to his soulmate. He sees Chan roll his eyes, trying to hide his excitement for him under his fake annoyance. Only, it’s completely ruined when their other close friends, Minghao and Junhui, tug at the boy’s arm and pause their game to hug and pre-congratulate Soonyoung on the big event. The butterflies have now made their nest in his heart and they won’t stop fluttering their wings.
Just as Jihoon had said, he arrives at their house at exactly seven-thirty that evening and Soonyoung silently screams at Junhui as he enters his room to tell him his future fiancé is waiting downstairs. He speedily buckles his belt and allows Junhui to help him tuck in his shirt once his shoes are tied, walking out onto the landing. He spots him from the top of the stairs as the fraternity brothers welcome him in, and he suddenly feels like his choice of clothing isn’t good enough when Jihoon looks that exquisite in a smart grey blazer and complimenting pair of grey trousers. Still, he takes a deep breath, and with a push from Junhui as well as a pat on the back from Chan, he makes his way quickly down the stairs to join the boy at his side.
“Oh my god, oh my god.” He whispers almost indistinguishable when he’s just a few steps from the bottom, grabbing his coat from the hooks on the wall as he walks over.
Placing a kiss on Jihoon’s lips, Soonyoung pulls back with a smile and waves at his friends as the pair leave the house, fingers intertwined. Chan, Minghao, and Junhui all give him an excited thumbs up before the door is closed behind them and all he can focus on is Jihoon leading them both towards his car.
“How did you manage to get a reservation at the Hareng Rogue? It’s meant to be booked up for months in advance.” Soonyoung tries to steady his voice, not wanting to sound too excited. He can’t let Jihoon know that he knows.
“It’s the Hareng Rouge,” Jihoon corrects him with a smile as they slip into the car; he makes sure to hold open the door for Soonyoung before getting into the driver’s seat. He rubs the back of his neck, a nervous tick the boy often possessed, and Soonyoung wishes he could tell him not to worry – he’s going to say yes a million times over.
“I got my dad to pull some strings. You know how he is,” Jihoon continues once he looks a little more comfortable, pulling out of the drive before heading down the road to the centre of Los Angeles.
He does. Jihoon’s dad was a big shot CEO and partner of some company that had links not only all over the USA but the world. To put it briefly: he was insanely rich and powerful. Not that Jihoon was the type to brag and let everyone know – Soonyoung had only found out when the boy had invited him around to his house for the first time and they had pulled up to a huge front gate, followed by an even larger house. Needless to say, it was not what he had expected from a boy so humble and sweet. He was glad they came from similar backgrounds, he could hardly talk to anyone else in high school about how hard it was for him growing up when people groaned and huffed about how much money he had. Money wasn't everything, didn't they know!
Soonyoung can’t stop grinning, fidgeting in his seat as Jihoon drives silently through the city. The boy was usually quiet but never this silent. He can’t help but notice the anxiety practically radiating off the boy, spotting Jihoon tapping the steering wheel nervously. He’s worried I’m going to say no, Soonyoung thinks and sighs internally, how sweet.
The restaurant is lit up with a vast array of beautiful lights wound along the branches of trees, hues of yellow, orange and pink dancing along the walls and tables. Jihoon gives his keys to the valet waiting outside and slowly offers his arm for Soonyoung to take. The lights captivate him, but Soonyoung’s still alert enough to link his arm through his boyfriend’s.‘Oh my god’ seems to be the only three words Soonyoung knows at that precise time, the phrase stuck on repeat in his mind like a scratched CD as they are escorted to a table under a low hanging tree.
Even though he manages to hit his head lightly on one of the low hanging lights, Soonyoung thinks it’s possibly the most romantic place on Earth—scratch that, he knows it is the most romantic place on Earth, and in his heart he senses it’s only a matter of time before Jihoon asks him the big question. His fidgeting hasn’t stopped, even as they are seated and presented with a bottle of red wine to begin the night, Jihoon continues his incessant tapping at the menu with his fingers or tapping his foot on the stone floor.
“How was your day?” Soonyoung tries to break the tension he knows his future fiancé is feeling, extending his left hand to rest gently on top of his arm.
“I had another talk with my dad,” the boy takes a deep breath and winces. “About my future.”
“About Harvard?” Oh yeah, did Soonyoung mention that Jihoon was applying to Harvard?
The boy nods and lets out a long sigh, placing his own hand tentatively on top of Soonyoung’s. It’s clammy and Soonyoung confirms to himself that the boy is extremely nervous – more nervous than he’s seen him before any exam. He finds it both adorable and upsetting that the boy he loves feels as if he needs to feel anxious about anything—doesn’t he know Soonyoung would rob the sky of stars for him if he were given the chance?
“Yeah, he’s worried I won’t get in. You know how tough it is.”
The scoff that comes from his mouth is completely sudden, but Soonyoung can’t help it when the words he is hearing are completely absurd. “You’re kidding, right? There’s no way you’re not getting into Harvard. No one works harder, nor deserves it more than you.”
Another breath out and this time, Jihoon nods along. “Yeah, I guess you’re right—I mean, I know you’re right. I’ve been working for this since I was first learning to walk. I think my first words were “I object” before I even said mom or dad.”
Soonyoung isn’t sure whether or not he’s exaggerating, but knowing the Lee family it is more than likely that he isn’t. He tilts his head and gives him a reassuring look.
Once their waiter has taken their orders, one that Soonyoung ponders over for a whole ten minutes because he doesn’t know what to choose (he doesn’t understand any of the names as they’re all in French—“That one is Beef fillet, Soonie. You’d like that.” “What are champ—” “Mushrooms.” “Okay, yes, I’ll go with that one.”), he settles back into his chair and takes a sip of his wine with a smile on his face.
He can tell Jihoon is working up to something, the way the corners of his mouth twitch and the dimples there are deep in his cheeks like recently excavated quarries full of diamonds. He watches as he takes his own sip of wine and smacks his lips together with confidence.
“You look really good tonight, Soonie. You went all out for this occasion.” Soonyoung beams down at himself, pleased that his new outfit was of Jihoon’s taste because his bank account had suffered greatly due to the purchase. He can feel Jihoon’s gaze lingering, and Soonyoung blushes.
With a clear of his throat, Jihoon sits forward and runs a hand through his black hair. He looks more determined now than earlier, and Soonyoung is suddenly worried he’s going to propose before the food order is even rung through. He needs some food in his stomach before he can process being proposed to!
“It really means a lot to me that you’re here with me tonight. I was so nervous earlier, but seeing you all dressed up really calms my fear to know you maybe have an idea of what is going on. I thought one look at you looking like an absolute dream would leave me speechless and unable to do this, but now I know I’m ready.” Jihoon takes in a deep breath and it startles Soonyoung a little to see how much the boy is talking. Still, he just nods along giddily, letting the boy give his speech as he looks around at the other customers, wondering if they have any idea that they’re about to witness the proposal of a lifetime.
“So, what I’m about so say shouldn’t be a big surprise… I’ve been very vocal to you about my future and the goals I have in mind. I’m so serious about attending Harvard and my dad really thinks that if I work hard enough, one day I could end up in the Senate. In the next few months, I really feel like my life is going to go full speed ahead, and that journey really begins tonight. This is my big leap into the ocean of possibilities that await me, Soonie.”
Waiters bring out bread for their table, not just any bread but the fancy kind with olives in it! Soonyoung leans forward to grab a piece and takes a huge bite out of it, humming in delight. He watches Jihoon flinch a little considering their surroundings, but he carries on anyway after another clear of his throat.
“Soonyoung, can I have your hand—?”
“Yes! Oh my god, yes! Yes, I will marry you.” Soonyoung swallows the bread and grins from ear to ear, almost leaping from his chair in delight as he places his hand in Jihoon’s. His face is flush and on fire, the blush creeping down his neck like roots digging their way into the soil. The music and chatter around them drown out until it’s only the pair of them in Soonyoung’s world.
“I—What? Marry me?” Jihoon splutters, mouth hanging open, eyes wide as the full moon above them. He withdraws his hand from Soonyoung’s, looking about frantically at the people around who have stopped eating or conversing to witness the possible proposal.
Soonyoung stops bouncing and retakes his seat slowly, smile still wide on his face and heart racing, but his eyebrows are furrowed and confused. Letting out a small, bewildered chuckle he nods.
“N-no. Soonyoung. I wasn’t asking for your hand like that. I just meant could I hold your hand for a second whilst I tell you what I need you to hear.”
He freezes, the flush on his cheeks from being so happy turning to mortified blushing. Soonyoung holds his hand still as Jihoon reluctantly takes it once more, his air of confidence slightly faltered by Soonyoung’s outburst. But still, he continues with a wiggle in his seat.
“I, uh, where was I? Soonyoung… I brought you here tonight because I thought it would be nice to… Well, you and I. We need to break up…”
Remaining frozen, Soonyoung can’t possibly believe what he has just heard. He lets out a small laugh, stopping only when he clocks that the expression Jihoon is wearing on his face isn’t for show. He really means it. He can see in his sad eyes that he really, actually, truly means it. Jihoon isn’t proposing to him. He’s breaking up with him.
“What…” Soonyoung manages, barely, lips almost paralysed in shock.
“Soonie. If I’m going to have even the slightest shot at being a senator when I’m thirty, I need to be serious about my future. About Harvard. I can’t do that with someone like you in my life… Wait, no, that came out wrong.”
“Someone… like me.”
Someone like you. Someone who prefers playing Yu-Gi-Oh with his friends to studying for eighteen hours in the library. Someone who was on the varsity football team rather than the debate club. Someone who is going to a regular community college rather than somewhere like Harvard. But, his family was from Beverly Hills! He wasn't exactly trailer trash!
He doesn’t say any of that, but he might have well have. They stab Soonyoung in the heart and he suddenly can’t help just feel his eyes welling up. The butterflies resting in his chest have died. They do always say butterflies only live about a week, something he does remember from his middle school science lessons. He was stupid enough to hatch them at all.
“Please don’t cry,” Jihoon leans forward brandishing a napkin, gazing sympathetically at Soonyoung. “We had a good run, right? You must have figured at some point that it would come to this? I need to be serious. I need someone serious.”
Shaking his head, Soonyoung stands as a waiter approaches to bring over their starters. Too little, too late.
“I’m not serious? But I’m seriously in love with you.”
“I’m so sorry. I thought you’d understand… With me all the way on the East coast and you here, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. It’s for the best, trust me, Soonie—”
“Don’t." He holds up his hands, surprised he's even able to say the words. "I’m leaving.”
Soonyoung is speed walking out of the restaurant before he can hear Jihoon call for the cheque, wiping at his eyes with the sleeves of his stupid, ugly, over-priced shirt. He picks up the pace and runs even further away, reaching for his phone in his trousers pocket, trying to find the right contact on screen through the blurriness of his vision.
He presses call and prays that someone picks up, sniffling and trying not to sob too loudly. The ringing in his ears is so loud that he can barely hear his phone dial at all.
“Hello?” A voice picks up after only three rings, and all Soonyoung can do is let out a tiny wail of sadness. “Soonyoung? Hold on, I’ll be there in ten minutes. I have your location."
Chan pulls up in his car exactly ten minutes later and Soonyoung doesn’t even question how the boy made it through primetime LA traffic that fast, climbing into the passenger seat as fast as he can manage so he can get home to bed and eat as much ice cream as he can before he throws up.
His night was ruined. Soonyoung blames himself for building it up to be some big spectacle in his head, making the disappointment of the evening that much worse. He just had to go and blurt out that he would marry him when there was no indication Jihoon had a ring or any intention of marrying him at all. That last part was pretty clear to him now, and Soonyoung can’t help but wail his heart out to Chan, Junhui, Minghao, and the rest of his fraternity brothers as he falls onto his bed before crying himself to sleep.