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"I don’t have a life jacket, I’m letting you go and if the waves flow decides to bring you back you know what I’ll tell you".

 

August 1992

Is it really a fan when it’s broken and moves burning hot air? His blouse sticks with sweat against sunburnt skin. Lee Jeno guesses it is fine, it’s August afterall. The strong smell of the sea and the refreshing air on the shore at night it’s only a memory if he’s not moving a single bone from the wobbly armchair of his bedroom.

“Darling, non esci stasera?”. Of course his mother would peek from the door and ask him why he’s not out yet. He’s finished his book for the week steeped with dry salted water and grains of sand so there’s not much else to do left ― besides overthinking about the unreasonable heat and the lifeguard’s toned arms. His mother looks beautiful, wearing a white fly dress and simple accessories giving a youthful air around her, cooler than the weather.

“Non lo so”. Jeno shrugs his shoulders, glancing at the window where Mark and Irene are already crossing the street to the center of Castiglioncello, their usual italian route for the summer.

As he just said to his mother, Jeno already told his friends he’s still unsure if he’s going out tonight ― one a lost canadian that started talking to him when he realized Jeno could speak english, the other an italian who happens to speak both languages and just tagged along with Mark.

“Not even for ice cream? Your nonna would be happy to spend some time with you”.

Ah, Jeno’s grandmother. The whole reason why he finds himself spending every summer in Livorno, cooling his burning insides with acqua frizzante and ice creams that are too good to pass on.

The old woman who has wrinkles in the form of happiness and a life well spent finding the love of her life in Italy, when smooth features very similar to his and capturing eyes stole the heart of an usual customer of the restaurant she worked in at the time. Her lover and husband Vittorio, a kind old man still joyful until his very last moments; a man a little bit in love with life, he passed away not more than four months ago.

He felt as an actual grandfather, and so it was for Jeno’s mother, who called him papà. His grandmother married him when she was thirty five and divorced from her first husband. Jeno’s mother lived in Italy for long enough to know the language and be all in one with the Tuscanian’s lifestyle, deciding to move back to Korea for university staying at Jeno’s biological grandfather house, when she met his father and some years later that’s how Jeno exhaled his first breath.

Now, at twenty years of age, all he breathes is the thick humid air of his room mixed with the nice perfume his mother is wearing.

“Va bene”.

The ice cream parlor called Veneta seems to be the literal center of life tonight. All ages, from kids jumping from one bench to another dripping frozen vanilla on their chins, to teenagers gathering up in small ‘compagnie’― groups there probably just to show off and maybe find someone to crush over the summer. To end it all, adults and old couples are just enjoying the joyful loud atmosphere of the floods of people walking over some shops before finding themselves all pressed in the small space of that one ice cream parlor.

Jeno spots Mark and Irene pushing each other playfully, lost in their conversation looking like their usual mocking. He eats his pistacchio and nocciola cone mindlessly catching some parts of his family’s conversation. Politics, for his usual disinterest when he catches bits of what’s currently happening in Italy ― and also a good time to escape the lunch table at his grandmother’s place where conversations about governments get more heated than the merciless sun of August.

Speaking of the latest changes, this year is slightly different than others. They're usually guests at his grandmother’s house, not very big but it has a nice garden they eat everyday in, although he used to share a bed with his mother in the only guest room. Jeno usually stays out all day anyway, resting his back on the mattress barely to sleep. Except for the days where his father gets back from his summer work to Florence and Jeno sleeps on a folding bed in the living room, waking up to the smell of milk, coffee and the low volume tv.

His grandmother’s house has recently been surrounded by construction debris and workers everywhere, renovating the old house when it’s slowly falling apart, starting from the yellowish curtains that one day almost hit the old woman’s head as she was napping on her couch.

To solve their lack of a place to stay, Margherita ― a family friend that owns a hotel, gave them a discounted stay for the whole month of August at Hotel Sogno, conveniently near Castiglioncello’s center where life unfolds, at approximately a twenty minute walk from the beach. She was kind enough to give a double room for his parents, for when his father comes in the weekends and a single one for Jeno, spending for the first time his summer nights alone. Free to come back and lay on his bed at any ungodly hour of the night without worrying anyone.

They still eat everyday at lunch at his grandmother’s, sometimes even breakfast if Jeno gets up early enough and doesn’t have a hangover, which is more likely than said. Jeno enjoys family friendly nights made of ice creams and relatives, albeit most of his summer sounds like alcohol, Boy George and Biagio Antonacci songs, Mark’s low alcohol tolerance made of loud laughs and Irene trying to flirt pretty girls or boys up between sharp jokes at her friends.

They usually just lay on the cold sunbeds seeped in sea’s humidity after finishing up a questionable amount of cheap peach flavored vodka, thankful for the sea breeze giving goosebumps to his kin he’ll forget in the morning once the first rays of sun wake him up in a pool of sweat.

It’s with a kiss on the two women’s cheeks, a small wave at his two friends and an almost whined “Non ho voglia” their way because he really doesn’t want to do anything right now, that he comes back to the hotel. Dragging his steps back to the hotel intended to steal some cooling air from the ac of the lobby.

Margherita eyes him from her thick glasses, blind as a mole without them, dropping a mint candy in his palm before she disappears god knows where with her odd purple pants. Jeno mumbles a ‘thanks’ mentioning a smile, and slumps ungraciously on one of the colorful couches, sighing at the same paintings of Castiglioncello’s beaches he sees every day hanging on the walls.

“Che senso ha venire in Italia per poi stare lì a fissare il vuoto”. Jeno raises an eyebrow, staring at the painting intensely it turns to a blurred colorful haze out of focus and something that has him lift the corner of his mouth in a smirk.

The receptionist guy is actually making a point. It makes zero sense to have a hotel room in Italy in which he is supposed to only sleep too distracted by lots of life happening outside while Jeno is plainly spending the rest of his night staring at discolored walls, loitering in the lobby.

“I can speak Italian”. Jeno turns towards the young boy, tongue caught between his teeth at the handsome features he meets. “You’re right, it has no use staying here”.

The receptionist -good looking- boy stretches his arms on the counter, head tilted on the side.

“A penny for your thoughts?”.

“It’s Italy, we have lyres, is that okay with you?”. Jeno raises an empty wrap of the mint candy he already ate. “Or maybe I can share for another one of these”.

The boy chuckles, deep and warm laugh made of boiling nights making minds restless about the heat. He gives him another one of the minty spheres Jeno gladly accepts.

“There’s no real thoughts to confess. Thank you anyway”. He lifts the sticky green sphere before it disappears under his tongue.

“Ah that's not fair, then may I know your name?”. The handsome receptionist looks at him under his long eyelashes stroking his cheekbones and Jeno finds himself staring. He is quite beautiful in a white button-down and black suspenders, brown eyes big and patiently waiting.

“Jeno Lee, room 214”. He’s not sure the number of his room is necessary information but it has Jaemin furrow his eyebrows in thought and soon his eyes glint with what seems to be realization.

“Oh, you must be Margherita’s boy! I mean, the family who is on the staff floor, she mentioned you”.

Jeno presses his lips together, surprised “Did she?”.

“Yeah, kind of”. The boy looks over the red reception telephone, quietly making him unbusy until it rings with a call or someone comes to the counter directly asking him a question. “She mainly talked about Mrs. Gori, your grandmother I suppose, said she has done so much for her and this hotel when it was only a project. Also mentioning a grandson of my age, it must be you”.

“You’re twenty?”.

“Why are you so surprised? Do I look older?”.

Jeno smiles sheepishly, glancing back at the hotel’s entrance for a moment. He spots his mother a few meters behind them engaged in a conversation with Margherita at the hotel steps, magically appeared back in the picture.

“No, it’s not that. You look like you know your way here”.

“I do, in fact”. He says and licks his lips, Jeno tries hard to ignore it. “Jaemin Na, by the way”.

Jeno feels stupid for not glancing down at the target clearly spelling his name.

Jaemin looks around his height, maybe a few centimeters taller. All broad shoulders, long middle and wide chest, light waves on his brown hair hiding defined eyebrows and deep eyes, his face only a distraction to all the appeal. Jeno lowers his gaze where the counter covers him to give a final judgment. He decides Jaemin is handsome, no legs needed to finalize it.

He looks good, probably is very aware of that and it has an effect on Jeno, suddenly self conscious of the way he looks tonight, not as pleasing. Being sweaty and feeling kind of gross is just the cherry on top.

“I should go to sleep, hopefully the heat will spare me. It was a pleasure Jaemin”.

“Always delighted to have pretty boys swinging by my counter”. Jeno feels seen when Jaemin glances down at his chest and takes a good obvious look, visible from the too many unbuttoned slots his fingers teared down trying to reach for the tiniest bit of cool air before going out. “Goodnight Jeno”.

 

When Jeno faces his mirror in the morning, grueling heat already hitting his skin, he’s not sure why he’s putting extra effort to look decent.

He rolls his eyes at the reflected face of a young man who’s just lying to himself, there is an unsaid need to impress the receptionist he met yesterday. Not that Jaemin lives right behind the counter, he probably has a morning off.

Being Saturday, means his father probably just arrived at the hotel and his parents will have breakfast at the lounge. Every hotel guest gets to eat good and various Italian food and since the first meal he had there Jeno is surprised at how nice it tastes. Usually food meant for a large quantity of people is never that great, Jeno remembers the dreadful experience of elementary school’s mensa, missing his grandmother’s meals at his only year spent in Italy when he was seven.

Getting out of his room he bumps into a boy he’s never seen before, kissed by the sun as he’s its lover, full lips of a dark pink color and blond hair a bit too long to still be considered short. He’s shorter than Jeno albeit the boy has long legs and thighs hidden by a swimsuit.

“Still asian, but you’re not Jaemin”.

“Excuse me?”. Jeno stays puzzled right in front of his door, an orange faded backpack in shoulder filled with the necessary to survive a morning at the beach. “If you’re looking for Jaemin I think his room is right at the end of the corridor”.

“Oh you speak english, nice”. Tanned boy with eyes sweeter than his biting ― and a bit nasal voice, barely says before a door right at the end of their floor opens, Jaemin stepping out. He’s wearing an hawaiian blouse, blatantly open giving a good view of his slightly tanned chest, looking casual and more of a teenager on a holiday with his flip flops and swimsuit.

“Hyuck! sorry I overslept”. Jaemin tells and notices Jeno in the meanwhile, waving at him, Jeno frozen on the spot awkwardly realizing there’s no counter between them to protect him.

“Not surprised”. Hyuck? tells Jaemin before turning towards Jeno, saying his good morning.

“Got any sleep?”. Jaemin kindly asks, his friend's almost feline eyes scanning him as Jeno opens and closes his mouth like a fish out of a tank.

“Yeah”. He says finally, the small scoff Jaemin’s friend makes has Jeno think he should add more to that answer. “I actually have to greet my father, I think he just got here”.

Hyuck boy says “Oh we know, Margherita is regretting not giving us this morning, she got some newbies taking care of Saturday’s guests”.

“She still tries hard to have a young staff, doesn’t she?”. Jeno smiles, Margherita always gives a chance to young teens and adults helping them build up work experiences during the summer, probably one of the few kind hearts doing it around here.

“I appreciate the sentiment, even if she has some real bravery for that”. Tanned boy glances at Jeno, hand moving between them in dismissal when Jeno stretches his for him to hold.

“Donghyuck. I know we’re going to see you soon so no formalities”.

“Jeno. Enjoy your day”.

Jeno starts climbing down the stairs, he’s kind of claustrophobic and avoids elevators if he can spare them, stopping his jumping through the stairs hearing Donghyuck chuckling, teasing evident in his timbre and Jeno knows his face must be cunning.

“Got another victim, huh?”. He tells and recognizes Jaemin whining annoyed for another laugh of Donghyuck.

“You’re already a pain in the ass and we didn’t even get coffee yet".

Jeno puckers his lips at how heavy Jaemin and Donghyuck’s british accents are, not noticing it yesterday just as much with how clouded he was from the heat and Jaemin’s beautiful features distracting him from everything they talked about. The receptionists are not as far from home as he thought they were, unlike Jeno coming all the way from Incheon. There’s a lonesome way he keeps walking his steps thinking about it.

His father’s embrace is warm, too suffocating for another burning day of August; it’s still nice to have breakfast with his parents at least once a week, enjoying the hug. Jeno’s father tells him he’s going fishing with Carlo, one of his italian acquaintances from years, and he’ll bring shellfish to cook pasta later if he can get his hands on them.

Jeno nurses his milk stained with a drop of coffee, enough to wake him and not as bitter as his parents’ is. There’s a few things Jeno dislikes beside the darkness and pesto, a strong taste of bitter liquid that seems to be his only salvation from half closed eyelids and jaw breaking yawns.

Jeno glances over Mark’s table, family of painfully obvious foreigners just from the way Mark’s father scans the newspaper fascinated as it doesn’t exist in Canada. His son on the other hand, seems more awake than Jeno is, striking a peace sign with a funny face when they look at each other before he gets back eating pastries and sipping orange juice.

“Vado”. Jeno tells his parents he’s going, backpack on shoulder and a nudge of his head towards Mark, standing up from his table still with a piece of donut still between his teeth, mentioning his family to let them notice he's leaving to the beach.

August’s sun is mean, bold and shining with some real arrogance on Jeno’s eyes covered by thick black sunglasses, and when he notices Donghyuck walking to the shore like he owns the whole beach, Jeno finds him and the sun not to be so different. As far he knows, they shine with the same confidence.

Jeno sits on a yellow canoe, the ones free for the ‘Belvedere’ beach guests, his mother probably already sunbathing with her friends at their parasol. Behind him Irene is half asleep on his shoulder and presses her forehead against his back; Jeno is glad for her long black hair falling to his chest, covering some inches of skin from the burning sun.

Mark is being his usual self, collecting seashells for his sister that couldn’t join them this year, showing them the prettiest ones and Irene asks him to find some for her as well.

Jeno spots Jaemin right behind Donghyuck, eyes closed and facing the sun it directly falls on his reddening face, toned stomach showing. He already anticipated it from the way his clothes were tight around the shaped body in his receptionist uniform, it's not a surprise and yet he keeps staring. Jeno can smell Irene’s coconut shampoo mixed with salted water, sun kissed skin and sand. An odd combination when she raises her head from his back finally finding something of her interest, lips pressing against the shell of his ear.

“Enjoying the view?”. Jeno glares at her witty eyes, unusually big and of a bright green reflecting the whole pine forest hidden in the shadows of Castiglioncello.

As she jinxed it, Jeno hoped to be invisible to the world around him this fine morning and it doesn’t seem to be the plan when Jaemin finds him through his gaze, not tearing his eyes away and Irene greets him back when he waves, one hand circling around Jeno’s middle encouraging him to socialize. She always ropes Jeno to pointless chatters he usually avoids, fault of being friends with the extroverts.

Jaemin is walking over them when Johnny gets down from his lifeguard chair, a vibrant red tank top hiding the abs Jeno usually takes in just to bring his mood up, the older boy too handsome to be ignored.

“Na, never losing a chance to show off at the beach”. Johnny tells him slyly, a few steps above from where Jeno is sitting, probably blocking Jaemin’s path their way.

“Not all of us are lucky enough to work with this view”. Jaemin glances at Jeno in a subtle smirk, turning his attention to Johnny. “Had to save anyone yet?”.

Johnny rolls his eyes “We’re not in Baywatch, the most dramatic thing that happened so far was a kid eating sand and crying about it”.

Jeno chuckles lightly, catching the lifeguard’s attention and Jaemin's as well, following his eyes when he gets up and Johnny wraps an arm around his shoulders.

“Ciao Jeno”. He winks at him.

“Hey”. He tells him and everyone around them.

Johnny gestures for Mark to come closer and turns his head to look at Irene, joining them with a hand cupped around her forehead to avoid the sun’s strong rays.

“Principessa”. Johnny kisses her cheek sweetly.

They’ve been knowing Johnny for two years now and him being younger than the usual lifeguards age helped them bond over daily minutes spent bothering the boy, sometimes actually helping him closing all the parasols in late evening when bathers leave the beach.

Johnny Suh is one tall boy, five years older than Jeno, bleached dark blonde hair and alluring features that costs him having people constantly flirting with him.

On top of it, he talks well, smiling like he knows everyone is wrapped around his fingers. Jeno’s grandmother is one of the many older women charmed by Johnny, who calls him “Bel giovane”. Handsome and youthful, she captures well how the lifeguard is in two simple words.

Jaemin and Donghyuck came all the way from Bristol, both with a fairly good Italian learned from Margherita’s sister who's an italian teacher in England and suggested the two boys to work at Hotel Sogno for the summer. They were out of options for an extra credits class at their university, Margherita's sisters lectures the only option left for them and they both found themselves actually enjoying the language.

Donghyuck is very funny, a joke machine making Mark giggle with his entire body when the receptionist ironically adds some extra spice narrating their eventful journey to Castiglioncello and Jeno follows the story with an eye smile and a chuckle.

Jeno’s chest is glistening with sweat, the lack of body hair he waxes off all the time easily gives space for a few drops to slide on his torso, a hint of abs from his recent attendance to the gym since the start of summer. He breaths out some air, joining his lips to blow on his wrist somehow in a helpless attempt to his case, too hot to focus on his friends’ chatter.

“Wanna have a swim?” Asks Jaemin quietly enough for it to be directly meant for Jeno.

“Please”. He glances up and Jaemin is smiling.

 

Jeno can’t really complain with the biting cold he feels for a minute, dipping as fast as possible his entire body underwater, washing away the hitting sun with relief. Jaemin follows him, dipping even further, starting an unspoken swimming battle. They reach the first red buoy where water is already deeper than the two boys’ long legs.

Jeno is faced with them being alone, no other swimmers in sight and the boisterous noise of bathers muffled from distance.

“You’re good”. Jaemin quickly slides his thumbs over his eyes, where eyelashes caught some drops of water.

“Captain of the water polo team in high school”. Jeno paddles around him just for the sake of moving his body and warming up a bit, the water deeper and colder. As funny as it is he gets thankful for the burning sun on his black hair, already starting to dry his head if he doesn’t wet them soon again.

“It suits you” Jaemin glances down Jeno’s frame hidden by the water “You have the body”.

“I hated it”. He’s going to ignore Jaemin’s suggestive compliment, no blushed cheeks for him today. “Swimming is still fun though”.

You see, Jeno is pretty confident with his looks. Works enough so his body is nice, was lucky to take the best from both his parents and considers himself decent. Jeno also knows he’s desirable when he wants to, being made fun of by Irene who usually calls him “Mister popular” whenever someone is obviously trying to get his attention when they go out together.

Jaemin is particularly handsome, the type of beauty that has Jeno kind of threatened. Beautiful, belonging to eyes unable to detach once they lay on him. What troubles Jeno is this has nothing to do with jealousy, the receptionist is shamefully attractive, in the way he wants to roam his hands on his chest and follow the natural tray of filth in his head.

“What do you guys do around here?”. Jaemin swims a bit closer, facing the endless sight of water extending too far from where they can reach. “I haven’t seen much of Castiglioncello yet”.

Jeno hopefully thinks he’s finally found something to do. Or someone, maybe; and yes, he’s aware of how gross it sounds.

“Nothing too crazy, if you want me to be honest. There’s a flea market in the pinewoods most mornings, we also have some volleyball matches there”. Jeno tastes a drop of salty water falling on his lips. “We get cooked under the sun, Johnny is nice so he bears our boredom and we wait for the night. Not much happens even then. Oh and there's the bar, we spend plenty of time there”.

“I hope the company's good. What’s so special about nights”.

Getting wasted. Wishing something close to the interesting and unlikely stories he reads in the books he likes so much will happen.

“We get drunk, maybe find a lover to burn. If they’re interesting enough”.

Jaemin glances back at Jeno, turning his head and tongue tracing around his front teeth, a glimpse of darting pink on display.

If Jaemin can eye his chest up so boldly then Jeno can allow himself to leave space to imply more than he should.

“What deems them interesting?”.

Jeno stares at Jaemin quietly for a few seconds too long, mouth slightly agape. He allows himself to catch the splashing sound of water but all he hears is the pounding of his heart pressing to his throat.

Jeno likes to risk, albeit he deeply cares about consequences. That's his only flaw when he purposely reaches trouble, enjoying the thrill of it.

“If they’re brave enough to come across the other side of the floor at night and maybe swing by”.

“Lee Jeno”. Jaemin smiles, teasingly so he presses his thumb where Jeno has a mole under his right eye. “You should be more careful asking such questions under daylight”.

Jeno leans in, just to feel more the receptionist’s slippery hand “You didn’t give much chance to hesitate”.

“I’ll keep that in mind”. Jaemin swims around him, his face enclosed in anticipation.

Jeno is smart, knows how to catch signals when they're directed at him. If he ignores, or does nothing when he finds them it simply means he does not care. Jaemin Na is a treat of August, when stars are more visible and they listen to Jeno’s wishes more carefully.

“Let’s see who gets first to the second buoy”. Jeno suggests, breaking the tension with a raised eyebrow; the outset of a challenge.

 

Margherita clears her throat when Jeno steps inside the lobby, feet bringing some dried sand on marble floors and she gives him a pointed look.

“Scusa”. Jeno stretches his lips apologetically, his backpack weighing him with the now wet towels inside.

Behind the counter there's a new face, one wobbly and extremely tall boy for features seeming very young. His plump lips and kind of round small eyes remind Jeno of an innocent chicken.

“That's Jisung, one of my new boys”. Margherita says proudly once she follows Jeno’s eyes on him and he’s smiling gently. The young receptionist says his small greetings back, voice a lot deeper for the baby face and faintly puffed cheeks in his jittery body.

Jeno finds his back pressing on the lobby couch for a while, a small pool of sand forming under his legs until he feels guilty grabbing a broom from the small closet behind the counter, cleaning up his mess. His mind has been a bit fuzzy with Jaemin’s words and his own suggestive behavior to mind washing his flip flops at the beach resort’s showers. Margherita smiles amused, both of them listening to Jisung who comes from Korea as well, a newly fresh student of Seoul’s university. It makes Jeno feel an odd overprotectiveness; it doesn't take him long to ask him and Chenle, when he appears from the elevator doors, to feel free to enjoy his friends group when they have days off work.

This is the first year Hotel Sogno has these many new faces, it gives Jeno enthusiasm at the idea of their group expanding and disrupting their usual hangouts.

“Buonasera”. Jaemin chirps as he walks in, Jeno’s attention immediately flickering in his direction, getting up from the couch.

They share some last niceties, especially to the small group of older women that have been forming in the last twenty minutes to hear some youth, as they said.

Jeno loves Livorno’s accent, being loose and somehow dragging out a lower tone of his voicewhen he tries to imitate it. He’s used to hearing it in contrast to the perfectly punctuated accent of Milan, a bit more vibrant. It probably was the one all the foreign receptionists are used to, smirking at Jisung and Jaemin struggling to keep up with the fast dialect talking women.

“Walk me?”. Jaemin closes Jeno in a hold, palm of his hand pressing at the small of his back.

Jaemin’s hand is warm, and Jeno doesn't miss the way he presses his thumb a little deeper on his hip. His skin is already darkening with gold as Jeno feels the nice pressure of Jaemin’s arm and it’s hard to focus. He’s set his eyes on his prize, maybe this one is willingly falling into Jeno’s subtle shifting so their hips touch.

When he’s close to their floor, Jeno presses his back on the wall, grabbing gently Jaemin’s forearms to bring him closer.

An open invitation that Jaemin takes it gladly by roaming gently his hands under Jeno’s thin shirt, lips ghosting on his face and Jeno feels his breath hitch in a dry gasp.

“Careful. As much as I’d like it, we should be wiser, doll face”.

Jeno lets his eyes shut at the warm lips pressing at his sharp jaw, probably about to whine when Jaemin detaches, hearing him snicker amused. He’s not sure what is happening he just can’t think right now.

“Patience is a virtue, isn't it?”. Jeno opens one eye to stare at the beautiful receptionist, shirt almost completely open and cheeks blooming rosy from the sun.

“See you tonight, Jeno”. Jaemin winks and disappears, leaving him a bit too heated and hands trembling when he opens his bedroom door, mind unable to erase Jaemin.

 

There’s something dazzling about being tipsy and walking around the familiar seaside street, yellowish lights blurring into laughter and his head light, so light with his body falling a bit forward against Mark to laugh when he makes a stupid joke.

Jeno prefers staying indoors all year long, giving his life a more social twist only when the weather at nights allows it. Books are an open gate to unrealistic perspectives of life, needless to say he merely finds amusement in compacted numbers of pages destined to finish, heart empty until his nose dips into another story. Jeno likes the illusion, even if it fails at giving him a reason to look for romance and deep friendships outside his house or the only one he already has, nothing would compare. Livorno somehow seems to have a tool on him, with its green pinewoods shadowing them under a night sky where they decided to sit in a circle, alcohol discreetly hidden to avoid looking indecent inside Mark’s ridiculously big backpack looking for a spot to stop and drink.

The night is young, new with Jaemin and Donghyuck’s company, just the right kind of delightful. Jeno grimaces at the overly sweet taste of watermelon vodka, Mark's cheap choice. Donghyuck is on his side, loudly complaining about the canadian’s terrible taste.

Jeno has his shirt sticking everywhere on his body, from the long walk and burning alcohol inside his stomach it feels ten times hotter, eyes fluttering shut at his burning throat. It’s good, feeling weightless. Not that Jeno is really escaping from something, his life is not wild enough for erasing thoughts liquor to work on him; if he thinks it better, it might help him tonight.

Jeno would love to press against Irene and maybe rest there until he sobers up a little but his ― all green eyes friend is busy giggling with a pretty girl with a red mullet and fierce eyeliner she brought with them tonight, figuring the two girls will soon be busy for the night. He wants to have a funny scoff at it, Irene always gets the cute ones and has no shame to ask when she wants something, insistently suggesting Jeno to do the same on the rare occasions he finds people interesting. Which is truly rare, standards left too high from the romance he reads in his books.

As per usual, if Jeno doesn’t do anything is because he deems it not worth it. Jaemin Na, on the other hand, is plenty worth a shameless flirting he’ll cringe at once he’s sober.

Donghyuck is busy giving Mark a hard time, flustering the boy to the tip of his pink ears, also entertaining the two girls laughing at his easy reactions. Jeno wonders the real reason why Mark hasn’t snapped back is simply him being too good for his kind even if Jeno knows exactly Donghyuck is a real life description of the canadian’s type.

Plump heart shaped lips, clever deer eyes and slinky body that has Jeno give him a good look as well, particularly beautiful tonight in a dress shirt and shorts with firm thighs on display. Jeno can’t really blame Mark for staring.

“Are you still here?”. The rumble of Jaemin’s voice against his ear is pleasing, shoulders pressing together when Jeno turns to meet his face. The curve of his nose almost meets Jaemin’s, eyes a bit droopy and tongue tingling when he licks his lips. He gives a dizzy nod and Jaemin parts his legs, hands around his middle guiding Jeno between them, back pressing at his broader chest.

Donghyuck makes a face at them, getting down another shot of vodka and a hand moving in dismissal.

“Shall we go to the beach? It’s getting stuffy in here”.

Irene furrows her eyebrows and points at the sky. “We’re literally outside”.

Donghyuck huffs with a roll of his eyes, getting up with hands on his hips. When Jaemin tells them he and Jeno are going to take five minutes more and “We’ll join you later” the girl seems to understand and tries to avoid the upcoming smile even if her cheeks are already curving.

“A dopo”. Irene almost sings, trying to reach with her arms both boys and his date for tonight to hold, failing with her slim and short figure. Jeno thinks he could fall asleep like this, the only thing keeping him awake is his heart pounding loud. Jaemin moves his fringe exposing Jeno’s forehead, glad for the slight breeze hitting his skin.

“I’m so fucking wasted”. Jeno whispers and Jaemin laughs beautifully, hands circling more around his waist, pinching at his hip. Jeno twists in his hold, hands at Jaemin’s sides gently pushing the boy to lay on the grass, hovering him. He's sure no one is there to mind.

“That watermelon vodka was quite deathly”. Jaemin slides his arms, lids half closed when Jeno presses his dry lips on his chin, missing Jaemin’s lips. Jaemin’s eyes are soft, holding Jeno’s waist when his arms tremble for the lack of strength induced by the sweet liquor he had, falling more graciously on their joined chests. He tries to kiss Jaemin properly but he feels a hand holding his cheek to keep their faces slightly detached and he purposely pouts at Jaemin’s laughing eyes.

“What? I thought we were about to do something tonight”.

“I’m not gonna lay a finger on you if you’re this drunk, doll”. Jaemin brings both of them to sit up, Jeno dramatically sighing loudly to express his disappointment, Jaemin answering with his vibrant deep chuckling.

“I wasn’t supposed to feel this drunk, I think it’s the beers we had before”.

“Probably”. Jaemin clicks his tongue, getting up on his feet and helping Jeno to do it as well. “Let’s wait for you to sober up, then if you still want it”. He stops and stares at Jeno, flushed cheeks and black hair messy stretching his crumpled shirt.

“What?”. He raises an eyebrow.

“The night is long to get lost in”. Jaemin shakes his head, a smile more sheepish than his usual ones. “Nothing. You just look good”.

The rest of the night goes out nicely. It's around two in the morning when they're still playing beach volleyball launching the ball up the ruined net that hosted countless family friendly tournaments in the passing years.

Salty, nippy smell of waves crashing against rocks fills Jeno’s nostrils who sobers up fast, concentrating on the dynamics of the game, him and Irene paired up together too competitive to allow themselves to lose a point. Jeno finds himself pressed against his room door about half an hour later, smiling at Jaemin’s smitten eyes and something funny he said before, both out of breath for running up the stairs for as quiet as they can be while everyone’s asleep on their floor. Jeno turns his face to the side when Jaemin leans in to really kiss him this time, pressing on his cheeks instead. Jaemin questions him, face tilting to take curiously his rejection.

“Had a change of mind?”. He asks, one hand still caressing Jeno’s bare skin under his shirt, goosebumps forming at how sensitive he is to touch.

“Not at all. I just don't want you to look completely lifeless tomorrow morning”. Jeno almost wants to give in, have Jaemin for the rest of the night but with alcohol faded down he’s back at being rational, maybe already caring a little too much.

“Why won't you kiss me then?”. Jaemin’s voice betrays him with a cute mention of a whine.

Jeno’s fingers play Jaemin's nape, curling behind his neck. “If I kiss you right now I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop”. He whispers, ears burning as he does so.

Jaemin’s hands roam further up Jeno’s chest, causing his hips to stutter a little when Jaemin slides his thumb over his nipple, holding back a sound.

“I’ll make sure to swing by your counter”. He kisses Jaemin’s cheek, lingering there a few seconds too long against his smooth features. “Goodnight, naughty hands”.

When Jeno closes the door behind him, his heart is still running a marathon and so his hands tremble when he tries to wash his face. August’s sizzling start needs to cool off in a while or Jeno is sure he’s going to combust at some point, blame it on one particularly burning hot receptionist.

 

“How can I help you?”.

Jeno holds the light blue phone, finger curling around the wire tangling it. Every room has one and the only use is to be in direct contact with the working receptionists, ready to help with every single need they can satisfy. He smiles when Jeno hears exactly who he wanted and hoped to find.

“Am I talking to Jaemin Na? The night has been lonely”.

How cheeky of him to say such things, when Jaemin was so willing to give hours ago.

“You sound radiant. I guess that’s what happens to those lucky ones who get proper sleep”.

Jaemin’s voice is weary, not less beautiful and it makes Jeno’s stomach twirl, so easily affected. Jeno honestly likes he wasn’t able yet to get his hands properly on the receptionist, there’s a growing anticipation, a longing both of them are playing around with and it distracts from everything he does, especially reading. Jeno woke up not too long ago, tried to immerse in some pages of a new book, Cronache di poveri amanti, glimpses of his time spent with Jaemin distracting him to realize he understood nothing in the short paragraph he absently kept reading over again.

“I’ve been wise, and you make it hard”.

“Maybe you should keep your promise and swing by my counter, it’s lonesome here”.

“Or maybe you two idiots should stop occupying the line to flirt”. The tangy voice of Donghyuck takes the space between Jeno’s answer that never comes, giggling when the third interrupts them.

Hopefully no one else was there to ear-witness their grease so early in the day.

“Slept well Donghyuck?”. Chirps Jeno, eyes closing in another laugh the two boys can’t see.

“Just hang up”. Comes the clipped answer and so Jeno rolls off bed, considering a shower although useless if he’s planning to spend the morning at the beach.

He does take his time to swing by, finding Jaemin surrounded by a family doing their check-in, eyes flicking apologetically his way just to turn and give the new guests his best smile, entertaining the children with a story Jeno can’t hear from where he is as Jaemin takes their documents.

Maybe Jeno is ‘di parte’, biased, and he thinks Jaemin is the one to look radiant today. He always does, skin somehow glowing, looking more beautiful than all the art surrounding the lobby.

“Oh what a pity, Jaemin is busy”. Coos mockingly Donghyuck behind him, Jeno doesn’t even bother turning properly to his direction, slapping playfully his butt pulling out a cackle from the honey boy running away back to work.

Jeno is dripping water when he sits at one of the tables outside the bathing establishment’s restaurant, in the wide terrace outside. Usually various groups of people and ages spend their time there playing cards or eating packaged ice creams, waiters shooing them off only when it’s time to clean and set up tables for meals so customers don't have to deal with loud teenagers during meals.

Irene is sitting alone, staring at a crossword at the end of her usual magazines she brings to read under the sun, chewing lightly at the pen’s end.

When she looks up her face is already too awake for his liking. “Had fun yesterday?”.

Jeno spots hickeys at her collarbones, the image of her being kissed by the red mullet girl quite hungrily against the sunbeds yesterday night still vivid in his head, grimacing at it. It’s not like he’s not happy, Jeno’s seen Irene grow in front of his eyes every summer and exactly like it is with Mark, he’ll always feel weird watching them being remotely intimate around someone even when they tease each other about it endlessly.

Jeno can probably count Irene and Mark’s summer flings from when they were around eleven years old to date, their three months closeness every year not really allowing secrets. He’s not surprised his friend is curious about Jeno’s business for this August.

“Not as much as you did”. Jeno rolls his eyes when Irene chuckles and slides her fingers to cover the purplish marks.

“She is addictive”. Irene blushes, her yellow swimsuit covering her faint curves almost elegantly. She is dainty at first glance, hiding a whole storm inside and a leisure to squeeze Jeno’s real emotions out of him like a tube of toothpaste. He is weak under her sincere eyes free of malice.

“What’s your deal with Jaemin? You rarely do something about your corteggiatori”. She asks him, watching over Jeno and the terrace’s railings where the beach is joyful ― sea peacefully flat in a long blue line.

“Gallants you call them”. Jeno holds back a smile “A deal makes it too demanding. He’s lighthearted”.

“I understand”. She squeezes Jeno’s hand “Loosen up a little, darling. You looked beautiful yesterday, you’re usually so caught in your head you always frown. I think Jaemin is what you need before coming back to that Incheon life of yours”.

“He calls me doll face”. Jeno snickers, feeling his ears red at the sudden confession.

“And you like it so much, don’t you?”. Irene properly laughs back at him, swinging their hands before she gets back at her crossword and Jeno slumps on his chair, soaking in the sun to dry. He really does.

 

Days pick up a fast pace, further than the first week of August when Jeno is walking around the cubicles that bathers rent for the summer. They have many uses; usually for families they serve as a place to keep their kids’ toys, inflatable mattresses and colorful buckets for sand castles. Jeno has one as well, the usual request of her mother not able to stand keeping her swimsuit damp when she slips on clothes to walk back at the hotel, using it for a space to change. They keep extra towels, old toys of Jeno sometimes gives the kids if he finds out some of them broke theirs. Generally they don’t keep much, the space already small and able to make you sweat rivers after more than five minutes inside.

Also Jeno always has a feeling people can see him change from the slits of the green cubicle wooden, right now making his hips stutter when Jaemin licks his throat and he bites back a moan hearing steps outside, the sun setting and people leaving outside their closeness. How they ended up like this in such a small space is something Jeno can’t even explain himself, not that he cares at the moment. He met Jaemin on his usual free day on Thursday, spent the evening swimming and peeling Mark’s burned skin from his back, the canadian giggling at the tickle and Donghyuck crimping his nose in distaste. Jeno wanted to comment and mock him when after a bit of distraction he found the british boy doing it for Mark, and scolding him for using too little sunscreen.

Then everyone left, Jaemin and Jeno alone to chat a bit with Johnny’s casual company, busy closing all the parasols and not paying much attention to them. Jeno was staring at his feet dipped on the shore’s low tide when Jaemin grazed his thigh and locked eyes with him.

“We should play volleyball, you said you have a ball in your cabin”.

Apparently Jeno never learns, being alone with Jaemin is already a twisting of his insides at every fluttering word or touch he gives him, and being pressed so close in a small space was enough for Jeno to close the door and finally pull Jaemin in for a kiss.

Right now the receptionist is licking inside his open mouth, a bit dirty and rushed when he breathes heavily at Jeno’s hands sliding down the waistline of his swimsuit.

“Can I blow you?”. Jeno does his best to give him innocent eyes, he’s good at it. Jaemin’s hands are digging so much at Jeno’s back he thinks his fingertips are going to consume him. It doesn’t hurt, just brings a pulsing pleasure against his crotch. Jaemin nods, taking Jeno’s wrists to guide his hands already with a few fingers hooked inside to bring his clothes down, Jaemin sighing when he feels Jeno faintly trace him.

He gets on his knees, enjoying the view of Jaemin’s glistening chest and abs contracting when Jeno presses his lips at the base of his length, tongue slipping to lick a strip of skin. Jeno takes his time, always enjoys giving pleasure to others, and how beautifully it is to watch Jaemin crumble just with his lips to use. He closes his eyes, flattens out his tongue and bobs his head reaching as much as he can, Jaemin trying to contain his thrusts as he gently holds Jeno’s face.

“How are you so good at this–fuck”. Jaemin’s constrained voice comes out in a moan louder than intended, Jeno reaching for more just to please the boy, tears forming at the corner of his eyes when it hits his throat, trying not to gag. There’s some spit falling on his chin and on Jaemin’s hand that’s staying gently caressing his cheek and jaw, he seems to not mind.

“You’re good, so good for me. I’ve been waiting for this for so long”.

Jeno looks up at him, Jaemin is breathlessly handsome. His chest is rising and falling quickly, hips bucking up in his mouth when Jeno wraps his lips a bit too perfectly around him, feeling the receptionist being close to his release.

“Jen I’m gonna, soon”. Jeno nods and presses so close his nose touches Jaemin’s stomach and it seems to be all it takes for Jaemin’s face to lock in pleasure, a choked low groan dragging out of his lips.

Jeno swallows. It’s not something he enjoys, to be fair, but he swallows everything anyway, picking up his breath when he pulls his mouth out. His head finds place against Jaemin’s hip where the boy’s hand is still playing with the back of his hair. It’s a furnace inside the cubicle, Jeno can feel how wet with sweat his forehead is. Jaemin slides on the floor next to him, palms at his shoulder blades.

“Are you okay?”. Jaemin’s eyes are wide and worried at Jeno’s delay of reaction, softening when Jeno squeezes his own in a smile.

“Very, it’s just dreadful in here, too hot”.

They get up, Jeno fumbles with Jaemin’s laces of his swimsuit to make a decent tie when the boy slides a finger under his chin, kissing him languidly. The young receptionist tongue is expert, knowing where to twist against Jeno’s, slippery and hot in an alluring haze. When they part there’s a string of saliva Jeno breaks, staring back at Jaemin’s heavy gaze.

“Let me make it up to you”. Jaemin whispers, wet kisses at his jaw, loud in the small space.

Jeno closes his eyes, inhaling noisily and lets himself fall a bit against Jaemin’s warmth, given up how suffocating the cubicle is and not caring much about the drops of sweat trapped under his fingers whenever he touches Jaemin.

“Not now, charmer”. Jeno stops him when he feels Jaemin’s hand traveling a bit too far inside his thighs and near his lower back, finger pressed at his chest. Jaemin’s smile is dazzling when he looks at him. “I have to get ready for dinner. My grandmother, as harmless as she seems doesn’t love to wait”.

“And who am I to steal you from quality time with your family?”.

“You are trouble”. Jeno bites Jaemin’s lower lip, tongues just barely having the time to slide against each other before he pulls back. “We really need to leave”.

 

Jeno eyes his pesto pasta, him all fancy in the azure silk blouse his aunt gifted him for his birthday in April, finally finding an occasion to wear it. He snorts to himself before he says “Buon appetito” to his family and they start eating.

He doesn’t like pesto, it leaves him a bitter taste and he never really liked cheese, he swallows it anyway. In this mental duel his head has he thinks Jaemin wins, at least swallowing him has a purpose, one that makes his intimacy twitch needing the receptionist to not just fade into a memory, hopefully finding his warmth again. He’s glad no one can hear his thoughts after he got asked about his day, or else his grandmother would not be so proud of her golden nephew. He sips on his wine instead, trying to wash the green sauce taste away, too sorry to tell his grandmother he’s not a fan of pesto, enduring it for a month every summer. Also, it’s not like she makes pesto pasta everyday.

He would love to have Jaemin everyday instead, too distracted and lost in his own head his parents notice and just laughs it off later in their conversations “I miss youth”, his grandmother says. Jeno Lee today loves to be young.

 

Bar Oasi has a friendly atmosphere for the start of Jeno’s group nights since they were old enough to drink. Europe is loose with the way they sell alcohol, sixteen years old Jeno ordering for the first time a simple vodka mixed with lemon soda that turned into new drinks and wasted memories he barely remembers, now less excited about getting drunk, he does it out of habit.

Vittorio makes Jeno drink a glass of wine since he was fourteen, back then not really enjoying the taste but it made him feel grown up, like he belonged to the adults. How foolish of him, now he tries to escape that responsibility label, the weight the word ‘adult’ has. Jeno keeps the one glass of wine habit in the years, turning as a fond memory of the amazing man his non biological grandfather was.

The bar is not to be taken too seriously, a simple structure with a small bar area connected to another narrow game room, the rest of the space covered with a marquee to avoid rain falling on their heads in the occasional summer days void of sun. Jeno was surprised to find one time he visited Castiglioncello in February the building closed, realizing it only is operating in summer’s season.

There’s some cheap plastic tables of a dark blue color and their chairs, some fancier white couches on the left and glass coffee tables sewn with thin braided threads of wood as decoration. The good looking area on the left has its purpose, above them a tv where there’s usually people crowded watching football.

Tonight, to their luck, is not as crowded and they’re playing their second match of pool, Donghyuck particularly too invested in the game playing with Chenle who’s as competitive against Jaemin and Mark. Jeno is actually a good player, not joining them and saving Jisung on the couch who looks lost under Irene’s shenanigans. The two young workers at Sogno are out with them tonight, their group looking bulkier than usual and the cashier lets him know when he gets there to ask for some coins to play.

“Who are you trying to forget?”. Asks pointedly Donghyuck when he eyes Irene’s Negroni drink when they all sit around the white couches once they’re done playing pool.

“No one, I just like it”. She shrugs her shoulder and Jeno smirks when Donghyuck widens his eyes at him.

“I tried it the other day and I was about to puke with one sip”.

“Maybe you’re just weak”. Irene flutters her long eyelashes black with mascara, teasingly and knowing Donghyuck can’t refuse a challenge when it presents right at his face.

“Fanculo, I’ll take a Negroni, what do you guys want?”.

Chenle laughs, still unused to italian swear words that sound somehow sharper and more effective for their tongues.

“What about a Sex on the beach?”. Says Jaemin who’s sitting close to Jeno on the couch, low gaze on Jeno’s lips and careless of their friends hearing. Jeno just stares back, a funny glare lost in the boy’s lips stretched in his delightful smiles.

“The fuck happened between you two?”. Donghyuck looks at them, Mark’s brown wallet in hand and Jisung blushing understanding their dynamic. He doesn’t seem bothered or dispirited. Jeno’s red cheeks are a foretaste of what he’s definitely not going to explain, Mark letting his mouth agape and flustered when Jaemin squeezes Jeno’s knee.

“Things that should not be said out loud darling”. Irene clicks her tongue at Donghyuck and turns to Jaemin with a wink “Do him properly”.

“Oh I will”.

“Fine, shit, I’ll order the drinks with you”. Jeno gives up, standing with Donghyuck followed by laughter when he enters the bar intentioned to drown his embarrassment in iced liquor.

Jeno lets it slip because they’re basically alone at the bar tonight, sure no one really is paying attention to their conversations, albeit they should be more careful. It’s not like homosexuality is that big of a secret, how people react to possible public display of affection on the other hand is always unpredictable. Donghyuck seems to sense it as they watch the barman move his fingers, experienced to mix ingredients for their drinks, sighing at Jeno’s direction.

“I understand you, Lee”. Donghyuck carefully eyes the bartender. “If you guys are careful there’s nothing to worry, us knowing about it makes no difference. Chenle and Jisung are easy”.

Jeno raises an eyebrow at him and Donghyuck smiles, shaking his head. “They don’t mind. Also, as much as it hurts to admit it, Jaemin is no idiot and he knows better”.

“What about Mark? Did he open up to you?”. Jeno subtly looks at their group of friends, Irene is ruffling Mark’s hair and Chenle’s loud laugh can be heard even inside the bar, making the two boys snort.

“He has the right intentions, I just think more than scared he’s just not used to someone like me”.

“You’re pretty unique”. Jeno bumps his hip “Mark is a cool one”.

“Hey”. Donghyuck bumps his hip back “I might constantly tease him but I know it better than all you brats”.

Jeno rolls his eyes, enjoys a grin on his hurting cheeks “Yeah, fine. Let’s drink the night away, shall we?”.

 

Chenle and Jisung are an odd duo, one not used to drink. They get drunk quickly so Jisung’s usual timid self transforms into a challenging, sturdy young boy with sassy remarks whenever Chenle gets naughty. It’s entertaining, Jeno lets a good laugh light with his tipsy state, fingers pressing on Jaemin’s hand that’s been staying on his leg since he sat back with their drinks.

Jaemin who seems a bit impatient to be closer, touchy whenever he looks around grabbing his skin, breathes hot against Jeno’s cheek when he gets closer. They’re still heated from the recent evening events, Jeno can feel the shift of atmosphere when he finally got a small fraction of what it means being around Jaemin. Jeno meets Irene's eyes, smirking behind her prosecco glass, and he raises his shoulders. She seems to get what he’s about to do, getting back at babying Chenle when he spills some of the drink down his chin in a clumsy movement.

He gets up, palm open for Jaemin to take. He grabs it after his face twitches in surprise, chirping a bye to his friends when he follows Jeno, Mark whines understanding and Donghyuck fake pukes.

Oasi Bar has a straight street to walk in for less than two minutes before an expanse of consumed long stairs made of stone bring in a breathless view of the sea at night, right at the entrance of their beach resort. They walk silently, allowing their hands to intertwine as they go down the stairs, air already fresher, molecular on the way water manages to mix in the air and fall on their skin. The beach resort gateway is closed and a bit high to climb over, one of the reasons why they usually go to public beaches for their drunk antics.

Nearby, there’s a public space Jeno particularly enjoys, where sand is replaced by rocks and if he finds the right spot they’re hidden enough to not be disturbed. It is already too late for families walking around and there’s not much noise, it feels empty. Usually this side of the beach is avoided, rocks dangerous at night for feet not used to the bumpy built.

Jeno takes off his shoes to walk through an area where water is a bit higher, Jaemin follows him until they reach a flat rock, behind them a higher one and the combination makes it look like an uncomfortable couch, under them dark water at late night deepens further, unknown. Jaemin is sitting on the rock, arms and palms behind his back for support, eyes closed listening to the crashing of waves, loud and relaxing at the same time.

“It’s peaceful”. He mumbles, legs parting and Jeno is reminded of their first night out, where his drunk state robbed him of Jaemin’s beautiful body that now looks so inviting. He moves slowly until he’s straddling Jaemin, smooth when he kisses him and Jaemin’s back slides with his hands on the cold hard rock, reaching for Jeno’s waist once he’s settled.

The wet snap of their tongues fills the air, kissing Jaemin gets a bit too perfect on his mouth, too difficult to pull out. They don’t stop, the drag of Jaemin’s tongue painfully grows on Jeno’s goosebumps, the pit of his stomach burning and his hands carefully find place behind Jaemin’s head to avoid the rough surface hurting him. Jeno sits up, taking his shirt off. He wants to smirk at Jaemin’s hungry eyes, never hesitating to grasp him when he exposes some inches of skin, tracing the line of his abs.

“What?”. Jeno asks him, narrow look and hands under Jaemin’s shirt to help him take it off.

“Nothing, you might think it’s silly”. Jaemin sits up, nuzzling at Jeno’s neck and sucking a bruise on the space right under his jaw.

“No, tell me”. Jeno’s voice is small, carried by Jaemin’s presence and the way he’s touching him. He’s not too used to it, rarely sleeping around with people and Jaemin is the first boy to treat him like he likes. Gently, slow as they have a lifetime for themselves; it’s refreshing.

“You belong to the moon”. Jaemin opens the zip of his jeans, a peck at the corner of his mouth “I noticed you don’t stand too well under the sun. Too bold, defiant. I like that you have that kind of pale light around you, not less beautiful of course”.

Jaemin chuckles at himself, Jeno’s arms latched around his neck when he presses his nose against his cheek, shy. “I’m sorry for getting too mellow, I was just thinking about it”.

Jeno doesn’t consider in that moment the press his heart has at Jaemin’s words, and curses him for ignoring it. It is not the right time, nor the right place to get lost in half poetry and different type of heartbeats. He does strip Jaemin off his clothes, then runs off the rock and dives right into the water with a loud splash, leaving Jaemin speechless for a few seconds, who gets up immediately until Jeno reaches the surface, smiling content.

“You’re really playing hard to get”. Humors Jaemin, more careful in the way he’s approaching the dark waters, hissing at the cold and quickly swims where Jeno is twirling around to warm up. He wraps his legs around Jaemin’s waist underwater, keeping him close and Jaemin’s breath gets stuck in his lungs for a second.

“Not at all. I’m right here, not planning to leave”. Jeno’s gaze is intense and a bit nervous by his own bravery when he helps Jaemin slide his hands on his lower back, no underwear to block his naked body attached at Jaemin’s.

“You wanna do it here?”. Jaemin moves Jeno against him, free of gravity to do so and he closes his eyes at the small friction between their bodies. Jeno hums, head falling on Jaemin’s shoulder when he leaves a mild noise at Jaemin’s hand around him, moving slowly. “It’s going to hurt you, Jen”.

But Jeno doesn’t seem to care, swimming back to the rock bringing a trail of water with him, laying there and patiently waiting for Jaemin.

When they kiss it all tastes like salt. Jeno scrunches his nose a bit at it when he bites Jaemin’s neck, an exposed strip of skin that will definitely give trouble to the receptionist to cover during his morning shift, liking the idea of leaving a visible sight of their night. He almost squirms too much when Jaemin darts his tongue around his rim, cries out a moan when it gets intense, his open legs shaking with the boy between them, thankful for Jaemin’s slippery hands with water and Jeno being already foggy with pleasure when he takes his first finger in.

Jaemin locks eyes with Jeno and hums questioning at him, answering with the same moan, back arching at the second finger grazing the right spot. It always burns, Jeno’s sexual experiences are not very frequent to be completely used to that burning but Jaemin is good, takes care of him the right way even if they’re just fooling around on a night of August. Jeno is reactive with his whimpers, left to the shaking of his limbs as Jaemin does the most, abandoned against the rocks and his eyes shut fiercely when Jaemin replaces his fingers with his length, licking Jeno's mouth agape in a gasp to distract him.

This might be the most fallen kiss he’s had with Jaemin, with anyone, melting against his warmth and feeling the burn replaced with a shocking pleasure, waves crashing harder in the pit of his stomach than the actual ones of the sea, almost sobbing at how good Jaemin feels. Jaemin’s hand rescuing his head from the uncomfortable rock, Jaemin’s torso pressing against his creating an extra friction without really touching him, the other’s hand keeping his thigh around his middle so he can thrust deeper like Jeno is asking for. Jaemin is all over him and he does not mind a single bit, louder in the night where he’s sure some drunk group of people wandering probably can hear them, yet he’s unable to care.

“Deeper, I need you to-”. Jeno sighs, moans against Jaemin’s lips who shifts them so he’s now laying on the ground. Jaemin holds Jeno’s hips firmly, helping him forward and deeper for him to ride Jaemin completely sitting on his crotch, finally finding what Jeno was looking for.

“Better?”. Smirks out of breath Jaemin, enjoying under his long lashes Jeno falling apart, head thrown back and hand pressing at Jaemin’s knees for support, to move properly.

Jeno has no idea how long they’ve been there, bodies no longer wet with water, moist of sweat dripping down his temples. Damn sultry summer, still shivering with waves of warmth at the pit of his stomach. After what feels an eternity, Jeno is growing close and gets a little more impatient with his grinding so Jaemin switches them again and sets a fast pace, bringing pure filth out of Jeno’s mouth. They both get there quickly, almost together, Jaemin a beat later but Jeno’s clenching around him and his worn out dark eyes make him pull just in time and spill on his hand. Jeno is taking his breath as he watches Jaemin.

They look at each other for a while, silently when Jaemin notices Jeno is trembling and he helps the boy sit, holding his shoulders.

“Don’t worry, it’s just overstimulation”.

“Oh”. Jaemin laughs breathy, cheeks rosy and hand caressing Jeno’s high cheekbone. “That’s good, we should clean up and head home”.

Exactly like they arrived to that love spot, when they walk back towards Sogno Hotel they’re quiet, awfully so Jeno would be scared if it wasn’t for Jaemin’s hand not leaving his, fingers intertwined even when they reach his room, another silent agreement when they both fall distraught on Jeno’s sheets. He will regret in the morning his stretched dry and salty skin, Jaemin the same as him, but he would be lying if he says the wash of relief of falling asleep on Jaemin’s chest is nothing if that would have not happened, parting ways and pretending nothing ever occurred instead.

That’s what they should be doing, forget it until it will happen again, because they can use their company and bodies as they please, as long as it is mutual and so carefree like it has been tonight. He will forget in the morning.

Jeno wakes up for a few minutes in the early morning, when the sun starts boiling outside and threads inside his bedroom blinds trying to resist it, feeling too warm with Jaemin’s tangled legs and the thin white linens between their bodies. Jaemin is awake, lips pressing against Jeno’s hair as he holds him on his chest, exactly how Jeno fell asleep a few hours prior. He’s holding Jeno’s wrist, moving with his finger some dried salt formed at his arms, eyes half closed watching Jaemin’s cheekbones stained with salt.

He’s ethereal in the dainty morning light, the slope of his nose pressed on Jeno’s hair breathing calmly, brown eyes filled with sleep about to close again. Jeno deepens his face in the boy’s crook of his neck, breathing in sea water and the faintest drop that remains of Jaemin’s cologne and remnants of sweat. If Jeno belongs to the moon then Jaemin needs to follow the rising sun, hand closing in his empty side of the bed when he wakes up again, later with his clock on the nightstand telling it’s late and it’s ten in the morning.

 

After a rebuking look, his grandmother lets Jeno walk inside the house, the usual smell of aged furniture Jeno loves so much replaced by an itching dusty creaking when he walks over the plastic rug on the floor. There’s a house painter for the walls of the entrance’s corridor, empty of the vintage scrivener Jeno used to play in when he was little, pretending to be an old writer sending letters to a lost friend.

His grandmother’s kitchen, on the other hand, is all renovated and Jeno lifts the corner of his lips noticing the ceramic right up the sink still has Capri lemons' pattern.

As per usual, there’s still many leftovers from breakfast she cooked for all the workers and Jeno’s mother. He tightens his lips at the painful burn his body feels when he sits on the table’s chair, watching fondly his grandmother heating milk for his drop of coffee to mix in there later. Jeno watches over the kitchen’s door that leads to the cured garden of his grandmother, a stray cat licking her paws under the sun, not surprised to see kittens outside when the elder woman always leaves bowls of water and cat food. Jeno can’t blame her, she’s lonely.

Vittorio was a carnival of colors, used to move her uptight nature by drifting her into the most simple and heartwarming gestures. Jeno’s favorite memory is in this very kitchen, his grandmother was cooking dinner for a younger Jeno and Vittorio just stood there, telling her flattering words she rolled her eyes at. When on the tv a waltz like song played he just grabbed her hips, swinging them around the kitchen and singing out of tune. She was complaining at first, saying she would burn everything with her spoon still in hand but after a while she eventually gave in, laughing around and dancing with her husband, Jeno watching them happily and clapping his hands to the rhythm.

Now the gorgeous woman with Jeno’s same eyes, wrinkly when she smiles, sits next to him on the small white marble table of the kitchen, breakfast served in front of his face.

“Splendido”. She pinches Jeno’s cheek, never restraining herself to call him gorgeous. Jeno also sees her glance down his neck, purple with Jaemin’s lips but she says nothing, sipping her own cup of tea.

“How are you doing, nonna? With the ongoing work and everything”.

They both know ‘everything’ stands for a whole lot. Is revamping the house a way to go through mourning, to accept living alone and spend a colder winter for the first time. Is it hard to fall asleep at night with the conscience of not having your lover next to you to wake up in the morning? Does summer taste different, does it truly relieve pain being around your family for a while.

A photo of baby Jeno sits up the fridge, him smiling with a few teeth missing, yellow cap and face dirty with sand. He was probably four years old there, he’s not sure anymore, the picture’s colors slightly washed out from the hitting daylight falling to the frame each day for years.

Houses soak memories, vivid with a touch, a glance at a consumed armchair. Jeno thinks his grandmother is strong, a woman who knows her worth and will manage to find happiness in the simpleness of life again, she always does. A woman that traveled all the way from Korea merely to be next to the man she still loves despite him not being on this earth anymore, leaving her family adapting to a whole different culture.

“You miss him, don’t you?”. She holds Jeno’s cheek, her calloused hands made of years spent working, the warmth of a parent and a lovable grandmother. “I do too, sometimes I allow myself to swim in the emptiness of it”.

“You can share it with me if it gets too much, don’t forget we’re always here for you”.

She squeezes her eyes in a smile, grey hair gathered in a chignon and a gold hairpin. Never thought of cutting her hair short like her elder friends, her own sign of beauty. Jeno will always think she’s the most beautiful woman to ever exist, next to his mother.

“I know Jeno. This summer makes you glow, you seem happy”.

Changing the subject to avoid what he knows is a sinkhole of emptiness, so painfully similar to how Jeno deals with his emotions, a reflection of himself. He shakes his head mentally, settling her.“Mh, I think I am”.

Jeno spends his morning under the garden’s parasol shadows, sipping lemon juice and reading a book, mind drifting everywhere but the words written on thick coarse pages. He itches to walk at the hotel, maybe check if Jaemin is there. He decides against it, a part of him timid to face him after their eventful time. He cringes whenever his mind brings back his whines, thinking he should have been calmer, less desperate, less begging. Jeno also knows he can’t really control his reactions in times like these, trying to feel any better and soothe his heart made of a bundle of nerves.

Jeno finds comfort in his grandmother’s arms, allowing himself for one day to be little again, laughing as they flip through the pages of photo albums all stored with a date for each year in a drawer of the woman’s bedroom. They play cards together, birds chirping outside mixing with Jeno’s complaints when he loses again at a play of briscola, his grandmother always lucky and clever with her choices during the game. Vittorio used to call her “Golden butt”, a cheeky italian way to say someone’s lucky, not even surprised at his losing cards.

With a kiss on the cheek and a stomach too full to not end up in hiccups, Jeno walks back at the hotel, finding Jaemin behind the counter wearing his black suspenders and button-down impeccably hugging his body. Jeno’s marks linger on his skin, faint enough to notice them only when he gets closer.

“Buonasera, come posso aiutarla?”. Jaemin’s italian is clearly of a stranger, Jeno likes the way it slips out of his tongue anyway. To be fair, there’s nothing Jeno dislikes as far as he’s getting to know him.

“Just wanted to swing by for once, you’re always busy when I try”. Jeno looks around before hooking a finger around Jaemin’s suspenders, playing with it.

Jaemin holds his hand instead, thumb sliding on his knuckles. “I didn’t see you try enough”. He jokes, wetting his lips. “Where have you been? Irene said you disappeared on them”.

Jeno snickers. “I went to my grandmother’s, spent some nice hours with her”. He clutches at his stomach dramatically, still feeling heavy after the walk to the hotel “Ate so much I’m about to explode”.

Castiglioncello is a net of streets, the immense pinewood being the green heart of it, making everything seem close and far away at the same time. His grandmother’s house can be at fifteen minutes or three from the hotel, it depends on the drag of his steps. Jaemin laughs, white straight teeth on display, eyes sparkling under his dark circles. Jeno feels bad for being the reason for Jaemin's lack of sleep.

“It’s good, you deserve to be spoiled when all I can do is stand behind this counter”.

Jeno unbelievably scoffs at him, hiding his smile. “Deficiente, your kind of spoiling is completely different”.

Jaemin leans in, fingers grazing Jeno’s hickey “One that I’d do again, doll face”. He then raises an eyebrow at him, pointing at his chest playfully. “Did you call me an idiot?”.

Jeno wants to answer back when he jumps at his mother calling his name behind him, the woman entering the lobby with her light blue dress and sunglasses, coming back from the beach.

“Jaemin, dear, you look distraught”. She rests her sunglasses on the counter and pouts at him looking awfully similar to Jeno; he wonders for a moment if it feels weird for the receptionist. He’s about to ask how they even know each other but even if Jeno has undertaken such an intimate relationship with him, Jaemin to everyone is the kind and smiley receptionist that probably has spent many times chatting with her during the day.

“Slept poorly tonight”. Jaemin kindly answers, hiding sleepiness under his mind blowing features and Jeno’s mother raises her shoulders briefly, transparent bag clutching at her side.

“I hope you’ll go out tonight, it’s San Lorenzo, shooting stars are dazzling”. His mother turns to Jeno, lips puckered in a beholding manner eyeing his chest. “I see you guys already know all about mapping constellations. Despite that, I still strongly encourage you to stargaze”. She grins at them, waving as she enters the elevator door following her light steps, tingling when it opens.

“What was all of that about?”. Jaemin stays puzzled, staring at the closed elevator, Jeno’s mother no longer in sight.

“I have no idea”.

 

Jeno thinks his spine will give up with how much he’s been laying on asphalt and rocks. He has a towel softening the pressure under his head this time, blindly looking at the stars sparkling brighter thanks to the clear sky with no clouds in sight. According to Mark, who’s studying meteorology, this really is the perfect night to stargaze. His body is still sore, realizing how scraped his knees are when he took a shower before going out, not sure how he got those.

Mark is commenting on the constellations, trying his best to explain to Jisung, a firm believer of aliens and fascinated with everything space related, how to recognize from the shape of the clouds where and when it is most likely going to rain. The younger wanted to find an effective way to avoid bringing his umbrella around for autumn, having Mark listing different names of clouds from their shape and color.

Donghyuck is sharing a part of the towel with Jeno, keeping his eyes closed saying he’s tired and just wanted to spend time with them before heading to bed. With Chenle out of sight, he and Jaemin have a night shift, usually the most boring time after ten in the evening where check-in is closed and no one is really going to disturb them. Jeno knows Jaemin will definitely talk with some families staying at the hotel, maybe play with the kids a little and he's planning to visit him around midnight, where their guests come back to their hotel rooms and the lobby is empty of any third pair of eyes.

“Did Jaemin treat you well?”. Whispers Donghyuck, one eye opening to smirk at Jeno.

He pushes the boy playfully, obvious with his sheepish reaction “Shut up”.

“What? Good for you, I mean”. Donghyuck snickers, hands circling around Jeno’s arm using him as a pillow.

Jeno is glad he found someone like Donghyuck, a personality so different than his and they somehow go well along. He’s bold, persuades Jeno to do everything he usually wouldn’t do and is mature when he wants to, leading him to open up sometimes, when he feels it will be good for his mind. Somehow he reminds Jeno of Irene. She's not joining them tonight, has a family dinner with all her relatives coming from Rome and has to entertain them somehow for the night, their group looks thinner and that requires calmer activities such as stargazing, more or less into it.

“I’m gonna tell you something, Jaemin might kill me”. Donghyuck waits for Jeno to turn his head. “It’s Jaemin’s birthday in four days, I’m still not sure about his shift but maybe if it’s you organizing something he would not complain”.

It makes sense, really. Someone like Jaemin belonging to August, born under the leo sign. He’s surprised Jaemin told him nothing about it and he makes sure to tell Donghyuck.

“Ah, he doesn't really like to celebrate. Says it’s one year closer to his fated death date, some philosophical shit like that”.

“After all being born is considered the first world’s suffering in life”.

“You two get along too well for my liking”. Donghyuck rolls his eyes and Jeno laughs, wondering if they really get along or it’s just Jeno who can’t help but mindlessly follow Jaemin everywhere.

It’s no longer San Lorenzo when Jeno completely lays on the lobby couch, staring at the ceiling as Jaemin is organizing some messy papers on the counter, singing quietly to Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit, much softer than the original track. They spend time like this for a while, Jaemin turns off the lights around one in the morning, keeping only a fainter one on his counter, in case someone might need something.

Jeno sits on the stool behind the counter, eyes droopy trying not to fall asleep, his calf circling around Jaemin’s legs at some point moving him closer.

“You know you can go to sleep baby, I can survive alone”.

“I don’t want to”. Jeno ends up whining in complaint, stealing a chuckle from the receptionist, with his palms pressed on his thighs and face leaning closer to his. He curls his lips thinking, and Jeno wants to kiss him. It really has no use doing it, not when they can’t do anything exposed like they are. Also Jeno doubts Jaemin would kiss him if that didn’t lead to other things.

Jaemin sits as well at some point, flipping through the pages of a phonebook dated 1983, wondering its use. Jeno starts napping on and off, waking up frequently shaking on his stool when he realizes he’s been drifting off with sleep.

“I beg you, go to bed”.

Jeno lays in bed after a few more begs, sleepiness almost taking over his body when he finds some remote strength to raise the phone to his ear, calling the reception.

“It's Jaemin from Sogno Hotel, how can I help you?”.

Jeno smiles at the bright ― obviously faked tone, knowing Jaemin would gladly fall asleep as well if he could, part of him feeling bad for having his back pressed on the soft mattress while he's still there soaking boredom.

“I feel bad for living you there alone”.

There's a low chuckle and an incredulous scoff.

“Jeno, seriously, that's my job. Go to sleep baby, it's late and you're tired”.

Jeno grimaces for liking the pet names before letting his words out. “What if we occupy the line for a while? I promise you I’ll fall asleep right after”.

“You're so stubborn”.

“I’m not”. Jeno closes his eyes, heart flutters in his chest. “Nana”.

Jaemin hums questioning as an answer.

“I wish we were together under the stars tonight. I took a wish for you too, I wasn't sure what to ask for. So you can now think of something and the stars will listen”.

“Let's go stargazing together for Ferragosto”.

Jeno is not even sure if other european countries celebrate Ferragosto, it's just an ancient roman festivity nowadays used as an excuse to do water fights at the beach and for adults to have two weeks off work. Probably Jaemin knows when so many people booked a room exactly for the first two weeks of August, work more hectic. It also is the perfect excuse to organize something for Jaemin's birthday, bring him stargazing on the 14th and celebrate until midnight. Jeno hopes Donghyuck won't mind, his plan includes only them alone, at least he's finding a way to celebrate.

“That's your wish?”. Jeno asks, smiling sleepy.

“No, I was just asking you out. Wishes are supposed to be secret, I took mine”.

“Unfair”. Complains Jeno for Jaemin’s chuckle.

 

Jeno wakes up to some loud knocking on his door, hair in all directions and generally looking like he's been run over by a bus when he opens the door to Jaemin. He gives him a smile, waking inside his room to hang up the phone that's been hanging off the nightstand all night when Jeno fell asleep.

“Donghyuck said the line is not working, you were my first thought”. Jaemin moves closer to fix Jeno’s hair, trying to comb them with his fingers. “He doesn't need to know it was you”.

It's ridiculous, really, how shy Jeno feels. He's only wearing his boxers, some soft light of barely seven in the morning filtering through the windows and Jeno feels exposed. Jaemin has seen him completely naked, pliant for him in any way but being completely sober and alone in a room like this feels different.

“I thought I ended the call”. Jaemin leans on Jeno’s palm, his thumb tracing under the receptionist’s dark circles. Jaemin seems to understand and shakes his head, one hand around Jeno’s naked waist. Jaemin's stare burns, his cheeks red as he lets the boy closer to him, Jeno silently unbuttoning Jaemin’s shirt.

“You’re tired”. Jeno whispers once his back lays on the mattress, Jaemin’s open shirt falling on his sides like protective curtains, and his lips are soon on Jeno’s jaw.

“Not enough to not do this”. Jaemin grabs Jeno’s thighs to circle them around his waist, slowly grinding down and Jeno gasps, not loud enough to be completely indecent. “I missed you like this”. Jeno's stomach turns, feverish with the overwhelming weight that moves everything inside him, Jaemin's words clouding his brain so easily.

“Dramatic, we had sex not more than two days ago”.

Jeno breaths, Jaemin’s hand already stroking him inside his boxers.

“And you think that's enough for me to stay away from you?”.

Jeno grabs his nape and lightly pushes Jaemin to kiss him. They're both dramatic, Jeno sighs against their mouths, quick to open it and allow Jaemin to lick at the roof of his mouth. He missed him. Careless, impromptu closeness, that's what they have. Jaemin is great company, their personalities match extremely well but Jeno never feels free to randomly kiss Jaemin, or touch him without fearing a negative reaction. They're just fooling around, and Jeno loves it.

Jeno allows Jaemin to be awfully intimate. Palms hiding his face and forehead pressed against the white walls of his hotel room when Jaemin convinces him to sit on his face, dragged moans every time Jaemin pushes his tongue a little deeper inside Jeno’s rim. Jaemin is slow, painfully so, his tongue twirling around him and it's melting. Jeno’s thighs tremble with each wet entrance, hands leaving his burning face only to steady himself on the wall, loud gasps a bit too high pitched to be heard in the corridors so early in the morning.

Jeno thinks he wouldn't let anyone else do this, not any other soul in his entire life. He trusts Jaemin, too much considering it has been less than two weeks since they first talked but it makes sense. Summer is a short-term luggage of experiences, of cold water and skin burned under the gleaming sun. Of sighs left under the sheets, of a handsome receptionist’s hands spreading him wider.

“Easy” Jaemin mumbles against his skin when Jeno almost loses balance and hits his head against the wall, overwhelmed.

Jeno knows he won't last long, closes his hands into fists against the wall. “Fuck me”. His voice sounds harsh, breathy, a bit too husky and that's what has Jaemin to stop.

Jeno knows his cries and Jaemin’s louder moans are filling the whole corridor space. He can't care less, when there're tears in his eyes at how good it is, too slick and easy for Jaemin to thrust inside him building up all that longing, that want curling his fists in the sheets and prickling at his eyes. Jaemin’s hips stutter a few last times before falling on his chest, out of breath. Jeno closes his eyes, listening to their irregular breaths and he can hear Jaemin’s heart pounding fast, fluttery and muffled by his tanned skin.

He starts leaving some tired open mouthed kisses on Jaemin’s shoulder, the boy's head hidden in the crook of Jeno’s neck, looking smaller pressed to him impossibly closer.

They're cuddling. Jaemin who has been leading almost everything between them now is letting Jeno curl his fingers in his brown hair, caressing the bare back of his thighs and kissing his neck, too tired to try and suck properly at his skin. He leaves a few soft kisses instead, pleased the way Jaemin hums in approval rumbling in his chest and presses his lips back where they're touching Jeno’s shoulder, quenched there as the sun gets stronger outside. Life picking up the pace of a new day.

Jeno insists on cleaning them but Jaemin has already fallen asleep, looking peaceful. He's handsome, truly a fallen angel and Jeno is happy to see him relaxed against his bedsheets. He stands up to put a “do not disturb” sign outside the door so the usual cleaning ladies won't open the door abruptly to find two very young and very naked boys together. He also takes his time to delicately pass a wet towel on Jaemin’s skin, cleaning him as much as he can; careful to not wake him up, realizing he’s been caressing his face and moving his finger to fix his hair for probably more than five minutes. There's a weird tug at his chest, one he needs to ignore if he wants to survive the second half of August.

“Sleep with me. I woke you early”. Grumbles softly Jaemin, eyebrows furrowed and eyes still close. He is adorable once he's stripped of his flirty charms. Jeno likes both sides.

 

Jeno wakes up to his head spinning, clutching at Jaemin's body that's already close to him, room too bright for the closed curtains. Jaemin tells him it's three in the evening, they both skipped lunch and for what he knows his mother probably even knocked on the door and of course none of them answered, both asleep. Somehow Jeno feels even more tired, body hurting everywhere and he whimpers when tries to sit on the bed, Jaemin’s worried eyes and hand immediately soothing his back. He feels lost, tries to gather it all back together and yawns loudly, face scrunching in pain at every movement.

“I thought I would feel like this the other night when we did it against a damn rock”.

Jaemin sits up next to Jeno, face pressing on his shoulder. “Does it hurt a lot? I’m sorry, I should have been more gentle”.

Jeno smiles, hand on top of Jaemin one pressing down the mattress. “I don't mind, it was nice Nana”.

“You started calling me Nana too, it’s lovely”.

Jaemin holds Jeno down again, a peck at the corner of his mouth. Jeno closes his eyes, actually feeling spoiled under the attention. It's nice to have lingering touches like this, nice preening under the attention and forget for a moment this means nothing to Jaemin. He just likes to be touchy and take care of him, of everyone he knows. Jeno’s stomach abruptly growls and they both laugh at it, blushing at the interrupted quiet.

“I’m going back to my room and get ready, take your time. We could go out and eat something if you want to. My treat”.

“Please wear something. I don't want all those ladies to see you walking out of my room all sexy and naked”.

“So you think I’m sexy?”. Jaemin smiles beautifully like he always does, biting at his lobe when Jeno with the remaining strength he has pushes playfully his chest.

“Go, you filthy animal”.

Jaemin leaves the room with a full blown laugh, Jeno curling on his bedsheets not ready to get up yet, soaking Jaemin’s remaining warmth on the sheets.

Castiglioncello pinewood’s morning flea markets are replaced in the evening with second hand books or handmade jewelries stands staying until night, all surrounded by the vibrant lights of the carousel and the lively sound of children at the playground.

Everywhere you walk, there's life. From the open cinema built next to a wide field and a bar where teens reunite on the days they don't spend at the beach, to the food stands selling hotdogs and more american like foods. To the long line of milkshakes or crepes shops once you get out of the green and back to the beach sidewalk, streets made of stone and noisy seagulls soaking the sun. Tourists and locals walking with shirts and skirts covering their bathing suits, some elders finding the shadows of trees more comforting and suitable for their age.

Next to them, there's a hidden narrow beach where sand is replaced by small pebbles Jeno discovered one evening with his grandmother when he was nine. Smaller Jeno that ran towards a brickwork when he saw soap bubbles rising up from somewhere. Back then he leaned and looked down at the brickwork discovering with a dazzling enthusiasm the 'hidden beach', keeping that name for years whenever he wanted to go there with his grandmother. Back then it felt such a crazy discovery, bringing Caterina, a small kid that used to be friends with him back then. She doesn’t spend summers in Castiglioncello anymore, Jeno wonders how she is and how much has changed in her life.

It's not really that hidden, you just have to pay more attention to the surroundings to notice. Covered by tree leaves there's a long set of stairs that goes down, slightly steep but satisfying once you climb down to the quiet shore. Jeno always has a parasol at his beach resort, all types of comforts for three full months many people can't afford. He always loved the simplicity of an orange sunset meeting the tide in a blurred line, eating homemade panini sitting on a rock, skin drying from dipping all evening without any towels to speed the process.

Now next to him, Jaemin is resting his face between his crossed arms to said brick wall, watching bathers having fun or just enjoying the four pm sun. Jeno is sipping a vanilla smoothie, Jaemin not too happy when he wanted him to have a proper meal. They haven't talked much. It's no surprise, whenever they have sex they always grow quiet, comfortably so; none of them usually is bothered by it, exception of Jaemin fidgeting since they stopped there under the fresh shadows only Castiglioncello pinewood offers, shifting position often.

“Do you regret any of what we've done?”. He asks between the wind, light and clear against Jeno’s ears who turns towards him, lips still around the straw. How unusual to ask something like this now they’re caught drowning in it. At least Jeno is, not bothering to swim up the surface, nor breathe something — someone else that isn’t Jaemin, drinking him and water lulled by safety and silence.

“I don't. Do you?”.

Jaemin stretches against the brick wall, spotting some blush high on his cheekbones. “No. I was just making sure we're on the same path”.

Jeno lays his head on Jaemin’s shoulder, no one can see him if he presses a small kiss on Jaemin’s jaw, so he does it. “We are”.

World is timeless with Jaemin. They walk around the street leading to the center of the city and their hotel, watching shop windows and they visit the gardens of Castello Pasquini, a nice tourists attraction. Jaemin looks beautiful surrounded by clean cut green grass and colorful flowers growing according to the same pattern, high bushes creating arches they walk under, ignoring the way their hands brush against the other the whole time.

When Jeno calmly presses his back against the walls outside of Jaemin’s bedroom door his heart aches, the timeless feeling slipping away into the need of staying more with the beautiful receptionist, laughing more, knowing Jaemin better and how close he can get to the sun before it turns him to dust.

“See you later”. He says instead, not moving a single finger and enjoying the way Jaemin cages him.

“Yeah”. Jaemin looks at him, thumb soothing his hips, their hotel floor completely empty to do so.

“Yeah”. Jeno tells him back and they chuckle, Jeno biting his bottom lip nervously under Jaemin’s pretty glances.

He gives him a twitch of his dark eyebrows. “Not tired of me yet?”.

Jeno shakes his head, guiding Jaemin’s hands to his waist, leaning closer–

“Guys you’re cute but your mother is coming here”. Donghyuck takes Jeno’s forearm detaching him from Jaemin, the receptionist stretching his lips in an apologetic smile and a not so serious glare at the tanned boy with heart shaped lips.

“We’re going to hang out later, plus you bitches were so fucking loud this morning I don't even know if there's any use in hiding Jaemin before she arrives”. Donghyuck rolls his eyes “Probably all the morning people at the hotel are aware two guests were getting wild”.

“Don’t say another word, oh my god” Jaemin opens his room, Donghyuck follows him and he waves at Jeno something along a see you later.

Not even the time for the two receptionists to close the door and his mother walks in, eyes filled with relief.

“Here you are!”. She hugs Jeno, smelling like her tanning lotion she uses convinced it actually helps to get tanned faster. Jeno can't care less, Korean’s beauty standards are the opposite of Europe, he will be too tanned anyway once he’s back home, even if here he's considered pale.

“Get ready or you’ll be late for dinner, where were you!”. Jeno wants to smile at the mix of a scold and worry, feeling guilty for disappearing without saying anything. He didn't even think of getting quickly inside a phone booth to call his grandmother’s house, too lost into his company.

“Sorry I overslept and then went out”.

She looks at him, lips pressed together. “Get ready, see you at the lobby in an hour. Don’t be late, your grandma is already in a frenzy about you skipping lunch, you know how much she cares”.

 

Three days pass before Jaemin's birthday and they keep hanging out all together. Mark is restless for one whole day and once they're alone swimming he admits he and Donghyuck kissed, and that he wants to do it again. Jeno almost screams, not usually invested in other people's love lives but this is Mark Lee, the skinny canadian boy that flinches whenever someone gets too close, it is a pleasant turn of events. To be fair Jeno shares his less innocent activities with Jaemin and they end up splashing water at each other in a stupid fight when Mark begs him to stop, Jeno adding details for the sake of making him cringe, laughing away his own concerns when it comes to Jaemin.

He also lets Donghyuck know his plans for Jaemin's birthday and he's fine with it, getting up one morning the receptionist is on shift with the company of Irene who has excellent taste and knows the shop owners well, to find a gift. They’re planning on buying a collective one but Jeno really wants to look for one of his own as well, still asking for help.

Jeno opts for a silver bracelet, spending more money than planned, but it's dainty and beautiful. There were rings of the same shape and material, his friends teasing him to buy it but Jeno thinks it is too much, only wanting to give Jaemin something he would keep through time. Maybe, just maybe, Jeno hopes Jaemin will wear it during winter and look back fondly at their summer spent together. A ring is too much of a confession, his own feelings ashamed and confused for feeling so many unknown things for someone he barely knows. Jaemin never felt a stranger, now more than when they first talked. He’s not sure what he feels for Jaemin. Jeno is starting to make his heart at peace during the night when his brain challenges him to face what’s happening, admitting he at least likes him. He’s not just attracted to the boy to slip in his bed and then walk out like nothing happened, he likes him in the problematic way that will lead Jeno back to Incheon with a bandaged heart to avoid pain. He’s being careful, tiptoeing around Jaemin, only having some lingering touches and heavy kisses in the cubicles the day before.

And when it's Jaemin’s birthday, the boy behind the counter greeting some old ladies laughing at his charms, Jeno pretends he doesn't know about it and sends him a wink before heading to the breakfast lounge.

He bumps into Margherita, happily greeting Jeno and tells him about the kids carnival for Ferragosto that's going to take place on the beach. It's a fun contest, groups of kids prepare some costumes and walk a cheap runway settled on the pier. Jeno participated back when he was younger, a group costume where they all dressed as the cast of Grease. Funny how from that big group of friends he used to have, growing up the only one that stayed next to him is Irene.

Chenle, out of luck, conveniently took Jaemin’s night shift for tonight solely to have Ferragosto’s night free, even before knowing about Jeno’s surprise. He finds the boy having breakfast next to Jisung who looks asleep as he sits on the chair, baby chick face puffy with sleep.

It's Friday, his father joins them at the breakfast table, asking Jeno his plans for the 15th. Jeno thinks he’s going to spend it with his friends, saying so creates a churn inside his stomach that sounds too much like care, not wanting to leave Jaemin alone. He can't help it, really. Jeno tries and tries to treat him like he would with any other friend, not allowed to wish for more, not when summer is going to be over soon.

Their beach resort is full, crowded bathers swimming and parasols all occupied by the annual two weeks renters. It's chaotic, loud with voices enjoying the long-awaited holidays and Jeno finds some sort of security in it, sitting next to Johnny on the lifeguard’s chair. Jeno doesn't like Johnny’s stares; too lenient, like he knows more than what Jeno can understand. Is he really that obvious? Can everyone see how much his brain is struggling to find answers and avoid them when they undermine right under his nose?

“Are you going to celebrate Jaemin’s birthday?”. He asks, eyes settled on the bathers swimming.

“How do you know?”.

“I have my way with people, I always know everything”.

Johnny smiles with his appealing gleam of his own. Blonde dyed hair shorter than usual, probably got a cut recently, lips curled in a smirk Jeno wants to rip off. He hates when he looks like he always knows more than him, Jeno hates being this helpless about everything surrounding him.

Jaemin promised him to stargaze for Ferragosto, and Jeno caught the perfect opportunity to combine both things with his birthday. When he knocks on his door, Jeno has to gulp down the receptionist’s beauty, smelling like cologne and his red silky blouse too good against his now bronzed skin. Jaemin knows he looks good, it lingers on his smile when he squeezes Jeno’s hand.

Donghyuck wows at them mockingly when they walk down the lobby together, wishing them a good night. They also meet Jeno’s parents outside, his heart beating fast when his father and Jaemin shake hands in greeting. He’s silly for being this nervous over nothing, deep down there's a part of him that cares about this, hopefully waiting for a future where Jaemin could meet them again, maybe in Incheon. What a silly idea. A wish, one of a big dreamer that Jeno certainly isn’t.

They have already been to the perfect spot to stargaze, even better than the asphalt street he laid on not too many days ago with his friends. Jeno brings Jaemin to the same field they’ve been the first time he and Donghyuck joined their hangouts, when Jeno was too drunk to do anything, now happy everything went at a different pace. It's not particularly crowded, yet there's still many people and after settling a blanket for them to lay on, Jeno is hesitant when Jaemin intertwines their fingers together. He guesses what they must look to strangers eyes, two young men spending the day before Ferragosto together and stargazing, waiting for midnight. Or maybe he doesn't care at all, his hesitation only related to getting even more lost in Jaemin the longer he keeps his hand between his warm fingers.

The sky is not as clear as it was when Mark chose the perfect day to catch shooting stars, but the company is more than perfect, brighter than any star. Jeno never minds, when Jaemin is near him, against him, inside him or every way he could thread in his life. He lingers on his lips, itches from his absence and Jeno might be in love with him. He’s sure life gave him a one time fate slip with the handsome boy next to him, lively and gentle, selfless and too good for his kind. Jaemin who despite their relationship and all the flirting has been nothing but a great person to Jeno, always taking care of him, making sure he is okay with what they do. Jaemin who is so interesting, loves poetry, history and entertains people and learns from everyone something to keep with himself, who sees the world as a great adventure to explore deeply, who relates and empathizes thanks to his selfless heart.

“Nana. I need to tell you something”.

Jaemin looks curious, letting their hands rest on his stomach, rising and falling against it.

“Happy birthday. I really wanted to give you something, you deserve to be celebrated”.

He sits up, Jaemin doing it as well, eyes wide watching Jeno take out a velvety pouch, holding gently Jaemin’s hand now.

“Can I?”. He smiles and Jaemin nods, cheeks blushed under the dark that causes Jeno to bite his lips nervously. The silver of the bracelet is cold, and Jeno’s hands tremble a bit too much so he takes a full minute to tie it. Once it lays on Jaemin’s wrist it looks beautiful, meant to hug his skin and his slim bones.

“Jeno, I don't know–”.

“It's nothing much, really. I just wanted you to have a memory of this summer, of Castiglioncello”. Jeno looks up to Jaemin. “And hopefully of me”.

Jaemin’s eyes are sparkling, even more than all those stars up their heads. Jaemin is brighter than a star, values more to Jeno’s poor heart swollen from twisting and harboring all that Jaemin Na is.

“Can we leave? I really want to kiss you but we can't here”.

Jeno has all the good intentions to at least wait until they arrive at the hotel, even if it might look suspicious seeing them walking back so soon, although Jaemin seems to have other plans when he presses him against a hidden corner of Macchiaioli street, lips fast melted together. Jeno’s sure this is their best kiss yet, his head spinning with how good Jaemin’s tongue feels with his, not wanting to kiss anyone else in his life that doesn’t taste like him. Jeno’s heart is loud and Jaemin feels it too, they're pressed so close it is even hard to breathe, as if they’re trying to breathe from the same pair of lungs. He gasps, Jaemin pressing his palm against Jeno’s heart, kisses his cheek fondly.

“Did we walk too fast?”. He asks, seriously concerned and Jeno laughs completely out of breath, kissing him again.

He caresses Jaemin’s lower lip with his tongue, getting lost in their mouths for god knows how long. It is unreal, too close to what Jeno secretly wants when he lets Jaemin take care of him, the bed burning under his skin and his teeth sinking on Jaemin’s skin. Jaemin is languid, stopping too often so Jeno has no choice but suck deeper at Jaemin’s tongue tasting like the mint of his toothpaste, feverish when he gasps at every touch. It's still quite early, not even midnight and Jeno at this point is sure his parents and everyone on their hotel floor heard them, not able to contain himself when Jaemin sucks on his throat, legs trembling around Jaemin.

“Are you enjoying your birthday? I have no idea how much we have left”.

Jeno snorts at his fun choice of words, panting because he's not sure how long it is until midnight and how long he can keep up with Jaemin being a bit too perfect inside him, feeling a pool of pleasure at the pit of his stomach.

“I do baby, you're being very good for me”.

Jeno is not sure what is it that makes him stand up abruptly, maybe it's really the awareness of today being Jaemin’s birthday and he somehow wants to please the other as much as he can, sticking his naked body against the wooden door of Jaemin’s bedroom. Jaemin furrows his eyebrows, getting up where Jeno is who's gesturing him to come closer. Hotel Sogno’s walls and doors are thin, and Jeno learned the receptionist has a thing for the thrill of almost being caught, especially from the cubicles closeness they sometimes crave.

He latches his hands around Jaemin’s neck, one leg trailing up behind his back that the other grabs quickly, still confused. Jeno is not much of a talker anyway, helping himself to sink down Jaemin’s crotch again, setting up a pace. Jaemin grabs both of Jeno’s legs up and it's a bit loud the thump the door makes as he does so. Jeno rocks his hips anyway, closing his eyes as he grinds alone on the others dick. Jaemin thrusts into him, another thump less violent but a loud whine from Jeno.

“Wanna be heard so badly, doll face?”.

“I know you like it. Maybe if you helped me a little, I’m doing all the work here”.

Jeno gasps when Jaemin suddenly thrusts into him, deeper than he expected, one hand secured around him and one playing with his nipple, Jeno moaning louder than intended. He’s not sure if indulging Jaemin’s kinks is a good idea, not when it edges him. Donghyuck is right, they do go well along.

“Is this how loud you wanna be?”. Jaemin asks, lips kissing Jeno so he can't really answer but nods into their pressed mouths, body shaking against the door with each thrust and sounds too obscene to recall.

“Even more if you can”. He groans, head hitting back on the wood.

“What the fuck Jeno, you're so fucking hot”.

It doesn't last long, it's uncomfortable but they don't quiet down even when they're back against the mattress, their languid pace forgotten and Jeno is glad. In the rush of heated sex, loud snap of hips and mouths too busy to bite everywhere so they won’t cum soon Jeno can avoid thinking his feelings for Jaemin.

Jaemin spills inside him, trying to thrust his high away into Jeno who’s still close, bringing out noises from the receptionist Jeno never thought he would hear, yielding with them. Long trail of noises, Jaemin calling his name, weaker as Jeno comes, spent on the bed.

 

Jeno is comfortable when he gets out of the shower, still naked and covers himself with the bedsheets, sitting next to Jaemin leaning in to peck his lips. He’ll never get used to it, especially to the ones they share when there's no sex involved, not sure this counts. The mattress is still warm after all.

“I know it's my birthday and everything but I have something for you”. Jaemin smiles sheepishly when he gives Jeno a pair of keys. “It's a spare one for this room. If you want to, I don't know, visit me in the middle of the night or day to talk, or since you never really want to leave me alone during my night shifts you could sleep here. You don't have to use it, if it makes you uncomfortable”.

Jeno’s heart jumps with that promise, one where Jaemin actually wants to spend time with him, just their company and nothing else, sounding exactly like what Jeno feels. Also the boy’s nervous stare reassures him, he’s not the only one about to flee. Not the only one about to say ‘Kidding’ and laugh their hurt hearts.

“Damn, maybe if I give you my ass another time you’ll ask me to marry you or something”. Humors Jeno, the easy way.

“Jeno!”. Jaemin scolds him. “I would have thought this is my best birthday even if we did nothing”.

Jeno laughs, affected by the words and moves closer to hug Jaemin. He doesn't know why he’s doing it, he guesses it's too late now to easily walk out Jaemin’s presence like it was the first time they started this. Jaemin brings them down, letting Jeno lay on top of him, legs tangled and both still stripped of clothes. None of them questions it, how easily it is to get lost again kissing, their mouths hurting, Jeno’s tongue numb. Jaemin tries to count Jeno’s lashes, laughing against his face into another kiss lasting too long to let go.

Maybe none of them wants to, maybe there's no difference anymore into falling asleep or falling in love with Jaemin.

Outrageous. That's how Jeno looks in the morning, body marked all over his skin, no chance to hide it when they're planning to spend the early morning at the beach. Jaemin isn't any less battered, saving how obvious it is they slept together. There's two chances really; ignoring it or being completely oblivious with naivety.

Donghyuck is no fool and starts cackling at them, murmuring something like “As if you weren't already loud enough”.

It makes Jeno a bit self conscious, after all Donghyuck is on the same floor so maybe that's the only reason why he heard them. Then he gets reminded of who also stays on the same floor. Not only his mother, both his parents yesterday night.

Also Johnny chuckles at them, telling Jeno when he’s alone with him “At least was it a good fuck?”, while Jaemin is busy picking up two oars for the canoe.

After that morning, made of a couple walks of shame, Jeno’s glad they're alone surrounded by deep waters and rowing peacefully. Jaemin chose a yellow canoe, the color faded by the sun and pale, looking beautiful against the gentle morning light and the misleading blue of water. Water limpid they can see sand and rocks under them, wondering if Jeno’s feelings are as clear. When he looks back towards the empty beach there are only a few elders already sitting under their parasols, enjoying the lukewarm air before it gets too hot, some of them with their small nephews sleepy playing with raked sand.

Jaemin is humming to a song, fingers grazing the water's surface hot with almost three months of heat pressing down on it. Hot with water moved daily by floods of bathers too tired to join the beach this early. Jeno thinks about Incheon. How he has to come back to lectures and exams soon, to skyscrapers and a life faster than Livorno’s one. To hear korean daily, waking up and getting sucked into metropolitan chaos. To days without his friends, without Jaemin. Jeno can't call Jaemin a friend anymore, he is someone he can't afford to label, and it hurts.

“You do it a lot”. Jaemin says quietly, smiling when Jeno looks lost. “Spacing out, it happens often. I’d love to know what's on your mind”.

“Penny for my thoughts?”. Jeno smiles, they do remember. Seems like months ago, when Jeno was loitering around Jaemin’s lobby; so much has happened in such a short span of time, a time’s trick of his brain to make Jeno believe he knows this boy sitting across him on the same canoe for a lifetime.

“The offer is still valid, you can talk to me doll face”.

Where to start, Jeno has so much to say he’s sure his voice will give up if he dares to voice out his heart dragging tired and numb steps towards the boy every day closer.

“I like when you call me doll face, I don’t know if I ever mentioned it”. Jaemin stares at Jeno’s jaw, his neck and everywhere his lips have left their touch.

“How is Lee Jeno from Incheon? The one I’m not allowed to see”.

Not so different from Castiglioncello’s Jeno. Just more strict, less allowing his own emotions, enclosed in books and running from a lecture to another. Lee Jeno who trusts his best friend Huang Renjun so much he feels the urge every day to update him about everything that’s unfolding in front of his eyes, get some of his wise words but the boy is also spending his holidays in China and he doesn't have a number to call him. He misses him, could easily cry about his dearest friend. One Lee Jeno who’s never had something like he and Jaemin have, a Lee Jeno not ready to let go of this summer of 1992 yet.

“He’s boring. I have one proper friend and we hide in game rooms when we’re not studying”. Jeno grins, fingers playing with the oar. “I’m glad you met Italian Jeno, he’s more lively”.

“I’m not too wild either, Donghyuck and I spend Saturday nights watching disney cassettes. I can say I’m glad you met Sogno receptionist Jaemin Na instead of the one from Bristol”.

“I think he would be as handsome and interesting”. Jeno blushes. I think he would be one that I’d still fall for ― that’s what he really wants to say.

Jaemin stares at him, tongue darting out to wet his lips. He takes Jeno’s hand, the same fingers intertwined so familiar now. It will be hard to get used to his usual life again.

“We still have time, we do''. Jaemin’s voice comes out shakier than he probably meant; fragile, and Jeno feels a lump in his lungs at his watery eyes.

Jaemin right after lunch is busy behind the counter with his receptionist uniform on, and Jeno spends almost all evening pressed against Irene under the beach lounger’s tiny roof covering them. She doesn’t really understand, he’s not even making an effort to explain after saying the birthday surprise went well, and Jeno is surprised to see tears fall on the girl’s collarbones, him quietly sobbing around the beach’s lively atmosphere he can’t keep up with when he’s so caught up in his head.

“It's only going to hurt from now on”. He sobs on her shoulder, Irene’s hands are delicate and thin when they soothe Jeno’s back, smelling of sunscreen and the friendly arms he needs.

“Is there anything I can do to ease the hurt?”. She asks, voice tiny from her empathic self always breaking whenever her friends are suffering. Irene understands Jeno, he’s not the first soul lost to a summer love, she’s been there. And Jeno himself knows it stops hurting, eventually, everything can turn into a fond memory at some point.

“You’re already helping”.

It seems to be routine hiding at his grandmother’s place, ignoring Jaemin is not the best idea when the source of his pain is time passing too quickly and wasting it like this really is stupid. Today there’s also his mother home, stealing some female attention while baking cookies. Jeno’s face is dirty with flour, hands sticky with the dough when his mother hugs his middle, chin on his shoulder to have some fun watching his son’s terrible cooking skills.

She points a bit lower than his cheek, on the line of his jaw with her fingers. “I wanted to give you a kiss but I know someone is already doing it a lot”.

Jeno goes still, his mother laughing with her pleasing and sweet voice. “He’s very handsome Jen, you chose well”.

“How-”.

“You’re not as subtle as you think you are”. She smiles, one finger in the bowl to steal some cream to taste. “I saw you”. She hesitates, one pointed look at him “Heard you, more than once”.

Jeno is flushing, not even able to look properly at his mother. And that’s the end of his shameless nights, he’ll probably never be able to even be in the same space as Jaemin without thinking about this moment.

“I’m sorry”. He grimaces, much to his mother’s amusement. “And you’re okay with it?”.

“Did you see what kind of grandparents you have? They are the avant-garde”. She steals some of Jeno’s tools on the table, starting to mix eggs when his grandmother enters the kitchen. She was out in the small balcony with the door open, of course she heard everything.

“I knew you had a lover, always daydreaming and not visiting me often”. She huffs, ashtray in hand for the occasional cigarettes she smokes once in a while. “Who is it?”.

“Jaemin, the receptionist that said we look like sisters”. Did he? Is what Jeno thinks, trying to contain a smile. That pleaser.

“Oh, that young charmer, I hope he’s as mellow as his words are”. His grandmother sits on the kitchen chair, sighing at Jeno’s mess of cookies. There’s effort, she’ll appreciate them anyway.

“He is”. Jeno looks down his sticky hands, feeling that sad lump again. “But yeah, a summer fling right? We can’t last that long”. He’s not one bit convincing as he says it, a frown twitching his previous smile.

“Darling”. His mother cups his chin, voice drooping with realization “You fell for him”.

They both look at the elder woman, who else can understand Jeno better than her? There’s another one in the Lee family finding love in the magical narrow streets of Castiglioncello, at the end of smooth sand and the start of the shore. Between roads too bumpy from trees roots growing strong, croaking the asphalt easily, roots as strong as the ones Jaemin grew around Jeno’s heart; strong like the ones Vittorio seeped in his grandmother’s heart.

His grandfather to which foolish younger Jeno made a weird attempt at coming out, he should have known better when he gets reminded of his reaction. Jeno for as far as he remembers, always found himself staring at boys since he was thirteen. Being gay is always considered something that stands out of the norm, of the standard. There’s more acceptance nowadays, in an education system that gives an extraordinary place to homosexuality, implicitly deeming it something odd, different.

When he was sixteen and laying on the living room couch of their grandparents house he was complaining exactly about how society pictures homosexuality to Vittorio, sitting on his usual armchair and listening to his nephew involved, surprisingly agreeing with everything Jeno was saying. When the old man understood how defensive Jeno still was, he got a hint of the reason.

“Jeno, are you perhaps so passionate about this because you’re keen on men?”. Jeno remembers the shock of a question asked so freely, not a hue of anger or distaste. He nodded calmly, eyes still scared and spine rigid until Vittorio made a face between a pout and a puckering of lips.

“You know what. I always think women are the most beautiful creatures of this world, a blessing. Men, on the other hand, not as handsome”. He chuckles, his croaky voice tender whenever he addresses Jeno. “But if you do like them, I really hope one day you will be able to find a man that will love you unconditionally, the same way I love your grandmother. I wish you a grand love like ours, son”. That's what he told Jeno, letting that conversation stay as a secret, until he would have been ready to talk about it.

 

Jeno doesn’t even bother to get out of his room tonight, everything reminding him the start of August. Same deathly heat, his fan that moving boiling air with the difference of Mark Lee thrown over his bed, playing a Rubik’s cube. They catch up on everything, honestly preferring listening to how Donghyuck wanted to lead their dates and make him explore until he understood Mark knows the town better than he’ll ever do in one summer. Of Donghyuck’s gentle side, how he becomes softer when Mark kisses him. They’re sweet, really, and Mark seems so relaxed about their future distance, maybe treating it like a regular summer fling and that’s what Jeno should do. He ends up asking him how he does that, sharing some of his own struggles; he’s a coward not able to admit he loves Jaemin out loud, keeps saying they grew too close and he wasn’t ready.

Jaemin was never supposed to be a stranger, someone only meant to be in his life for a summer.

“I think you should tell him Jeno, whatever it is. You’ll lose him either way”.

“Jesus, thank you Mark, very comforting”.

Mark sighs, pointing at Jeno’s hands holding Jaemin’s room keys, switching them from one palm to another. “Go to his room, Hyuck will take over his shift in an hour, I’m going to keep him company”.

“You know Mark, that’s exactly how you end up like me”.

“So what? I like Donghyuck, but I won’t let it ruin the time we have, even if he’ll only end up being a memory, who cares if it is a damn good one. You should do it too, do whatever you’d do with him and pretend you have another month in front of you. That’s how I stay so calm”. Mark squeezes his shoulder before leaving Jeno’s room. The calendar marks the 20th of August. It’s not much, but they still have time. He grabs his toothbrush and both keys.

He’s been inside Jaemin’s room only for his birthday, this is the first time he looks at it properly. It is clean, Jaemin’s suitcase gigantic and resting to the side, next to the small balcony where a uniform is drying on the clothesline. There’s a glass of water half empty on the nightstand and the velvet pouch of the bracelet Jeno gifted him.The room smells like Jaemin, of his cologne.

There’s an odd intimacy at brushing his teeth in Jaemin’s bathroom, the fragrance of his shampoo lingering in the room and in Jeno’s hair now, the shower box still wet with drops cooling against glass, feeling free to watch himself covered with one of Jaemin’s shirts bigger on him due to the boy’s wider frame he borrowed, collarbones exposed under the room’s pale light.

Lee Jeno is tired. Physically a whole lot, his body constantly sore and it hits him when he finally sits on the mattress, leaving a plastic box with some biscuits he made at his grandmother’s on the other empty nightstand, the one now supposed to be Jeno’s if he’s planning to spend every night there. He’s still not sure of how to ask that to Jaemin, feeling exposed and confessing even at the idea. Jeno lays in the dark room and is awake when Jaemin opens the door, heading to the bathroom and he thinks the receptionist didn’t even notice him. He feels nervous, heart aching as he waits for the boy to come out of the bathroom.

Jaemin gets under the covers, mumbling a small “Hi”. He kisses Jeno’s cheek and turns him in arms. Jeno lets himself be cuddled by him, eyes closed and cheek against Jaemin’s naked chest, his ear burning pressed on the cool skin. “Is it okay if I stay here? Until you leave”.

Jaemin bring’s Jeno’s hand to his lips. “Of course baby, as long as you want”.

Falling asleep with Jaemin is fast and easy. However waking up is not, tangled in Jaemin’s embrace extremely pleasant after the first colder night of summer. Jeno wakes up to the rolling sound of rain hitting the roof, Jaemin awakens and moves his arms tighter around Jeno when he hears him shift. Jeno stares at Jaemin, eyes closed and pouty lips, starting to snore lightly when Jeno strokes his face, tucking his hair behind his ears and watches the sleeping beauty against the cushion.

Jaemin is breathtaking at every hour of the day, his heart sore at every glance. Jaemin’s bare skin is warm, Jeno leaves a few kisses there, enjoying the shape of his lips sticking to him, at the middle of his chest. Jaemin tries to move Jeno closer, tongue lazily darting out to touch Jeno’s lips, failing from sleepiness so Jeno laughs against his lips, being the one to kiss him properly.

“That’s a good morning”.

If Jeno could choose a time spent with Jaemin to stop and relive for life it would be the morning of the 21st. Jeno’s skin is filled with goosebumps from the chilly air threading from the open window and Jaemin’s smooth fingers under his shirt, licking in his mouth languidly, mellow snaps with every whirl of their mouths. Safety of their room protecting them from the rather loud rain, safety of his lover’s arms touching him tenderly. Jaemin’s drag of his movements and touches on Jeno is sensual, led by sleep fading into a more rational want and it’s so easy for him to trail his tongue on Jaemin’s lower stomach, discarding the only thin clothing on him. So easy to let his ears be filled with Jaemin’s beautiful sounds, a sight so compromising in the morning yet both enclosed in intimacy. He swallows Jaemin and a bit of himself, of this hotel, of an italian summer leading to its end.

The 21st is the rainy day they spend all day kissing in bed, making what feels more like love than sex against the mattress, the shower’s walls and everywhere their bodies can press, not ready to let go, to detatch from each other. To be careful with their sore bodies but not with their emotions, exposed and clear as the clouds opening with rays of sun on the brief hour where rain stops. Jeno wears Jaemin’s clothes and gets out of the room only to grab something to eat, both too lost in the other until their stomachs growled louder with the hours passing and they gave up to satisfy basic human needs.

Jeno looks kind of ridiculous. The shirt he’s wearing is way too big on him and obviously not his, pants hanging lower on his hips than they should and his hair is still damp from the second shower they took together. Donghyuck lets him know he looks lovesick when he sees him in the lobby, Mark next to him behind the counter smiling with the corner of his lips. He went to a bakery near the center, bought both salty and sweet foods unsure of what Jaemin might want. He raises the plastic bag up, smiling stupidly. Donghyuck is right.

“Gotta keep my loved ones alive”.

Jeno feels barely alive after eating, collapsing again on the mattress as Jaemin reads him an italian poetry book Jeno grabbed from his room, helping him with the pronunciation until his eyes are too heavy to continue.

To relive the 21st, is Jeno’s biggest desire.

Time ruinously runs faster when you fear it the most. Living the days he had and being content with it, that’s what Jeno had to do. To swing by the reception, swim everyday further just for the sake of letting Jaemin’s working hours run faster, even if that means days are going to end quicker. Recklessly get drunk, fall into the bedsheets with hungry mouths and laugh, oh so genuinely laughing and feeling the rumble of Jaemin’s rib cage, alive and beautiful containing the most precious soul Jeno has ever met. He reads books for Jaemin under the sun at his mother’s parasol, not caring anymore about looking like a couple. Jaemin pressed to his chest listening carefully to the sound of his voice, kissing his jaw from time to time and having Irene or any of his friends teasing for it, all secretly fond of their affection. Jaemin sometimes naps, or discreetly steals kisses that have Jeno blush madly knowing Donghyuck would be a loud complainer for it.

Jaemin plays the piano in the empty lobby, surprising Jeno who had no idea he was this good, wondering how many things he still has to discover of Jaemin and time is tickling, closer to the end of August.

Making love again and again, until Jeno on the 29th crumbles, starting ugly sobbing on Jaemin’s mouth and shoulders, heart too fragile to keep pretending everything is fine. Jaemin whispers “I know, I hurt too”, kissing him and comforting Jeno who couldn’t stop anymore, open sink tearing out the ugliest cries, trusting Jaemin completely to show him all the vulnerability he actually keeps inside. He hears at one point Jaemin sniffle, realizing he was not alone in this pain, tastes sadness and how salty it is.

Waking up in a heavy sigh, alone in Jaemin’s hotel room, his side still warm and Jeno’s cushion still stained with tears when he pulled him for a last kiss, deciding together for the better to not accompany him to the train station nor the airport. Jeno is relieved, because he really doesn’t want anyone to see him right now, curled on himself shaking with his own sadness. He couldn’t stand the idea of falling like this on a train back from Pisa’s airport, this is too personal to be shared. He’s sure he’s not exaggerating. Jeno wasn’t ready to let go; tried to prepare himself for this moment, also saying goodbye to Mark the night before to his already overwhelmed self is hard.

 

When you live in Castiglioncello, there’s always an abrupt change from August to September, so neat is almost unbelievable if not experienced. After a few days the heat comes back, slightly weaker, just with a reminder summer is over, suitcases need to be packed soon. Sitting alone on his rock, the start of something he’ll probably never erase, Jeno drunk and pliant for Jaemin. He shakes his head, squeezing his eyes already tearing up.

Sitting on the lukewarm stone, the sea opens in a flat rippled blue line, too calm and silent, too allowing for Jeno to hurt and think of Jaemin probably already home.

Ten year old Jeno loved September, the melancholy of empty and closed parasols, of spending some evenings with his shirt on thanks to the chillier wind, feeling like the main character of a movie playing the last ten minutes; the expectation of a good ending. Younger Jeno was always excited to start new, coming home to Incheon, buy school items and fresh books to learn, coming back to his usual life after summer’s daydream.

Jeno tries to dip one foot in the water, hissing at how cold it already is. Small and brief biting cold like Jaemin’s silver bracelet felt on his skin when he circled his arm around his bare waist. “I have a part of you to keep with me”. He told Jeno the night before, stroking his cheek before showing him the jewelry; it’s true, Jeno gifted him that bracelet for that reason.

What does Jeno have? Most than what everyone will ever have, if he’s being honest. The pain right now seems unbearable, Jaemin gave him something that can’t be replaced. Jeno never thought he could love so selflessly, deeply without second guessing. He thought it was some real kind of fantasy; the romance he reads in his books, turns out it exists, even ensnared in people like him.

He’s sure everyone knows, he can tell from the sympathetic looks he receives when he walks the lobby, Chenle on shift. Probably looks terrible, his first night without Jaemin spent crying and sleepless until six in the morning when dried out of tears he finally fell asleep. Salty water and the sun calmer shaken by the wind don’t do anything to make him look better. Margherita meets him on the staff floor one day after Jaemin and Donghyuck left, finds him lonesome sitting in front of Jaemin’s door.

“Tesoro”. She tells him, sitting next to Jeno on the floor, despite her aging and struggling a bit to sit comfortably with her legs crossed. She grabs his hand, the one of a woman that never got married but still feels motherly, warm and feminine in her gentleness.

“You know it too, right?”. Jeno tries to say, voice wobbly. Heartbreak sucks, and feeling it for the first time at twenty years old gives him a deep commotion difficult to shake off. He’s not experienced, didn’t know what to expect. He knows so far it just sucks and everything feels colorless, a photo of a memory bright in your head but not at all in the physical form, everything black and white. Jaemin is the key to bring color, he stole it with a piece of Jeno’s heart and he’s not even mad he did it, glad somehow a part of him is there.

“It is written all over your faces”. She smiles, letting Jeno’s head fall on her shoulder and comforts him with a hand combing his messy black hair. “L’amore guarda non con gli occhi ma con l'anima e perciò l'alato Cupido viene dipinto cieco”.

Jeno smiles, Shakespeare. “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; therefore is winged cupid painted blind”. He recites back, and Margherita hums closing her eyes satisfied.

Most of the literature references Jeno learned when he was younger all come from his grandmother’s beloved friend Margherita, kind and mind so beautifully wide Jeno always admired. Jeno almost wants to chuckle at the choice’s irony, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He still thinks the receptionist is not real sometimes, maybe if he weren’t now he could breath easily or picture his face without wanting to cry.

“I know what you feel, Jeno”. Margherita curls the corner of her lips, of an astonishing beauty aged with time. “Rosa. God only knows where she is now”. Her eyes seem lost into a mist Jeno wants to follow, see it with her eyes. “We fell in love, Castiglioncello always knows how to grip our weakest spot. My times were not so kind, we were scared and had to overcome our own brains, our biggest enemy, and fault”. She snickers, squeezing Jeno’s hand. “You on the other hand, sweet Jeno. Lustrous, is what you and Jaemin have, and so rare. I’m happy you met, so lucky and youthful”. Her voice sounds lovely, and Jeno for a moment feels that luck she sees.

“It feels empty now. I know I should be grateful, doesn’t hurt any less”.

Margherita clicks her tongue and looks up to the boring white ceiling. “I know you do, sweet. I’m not sure that will pass soon either, but you can always find beauty in it. Now help this grandma get up, we’re going for a walk, you can be sad but not on this ugly floor”. Jeno is glad his heart got broken in a place so familiar, his walk with Margherita ending at her house door, her cat twirling around Jeno’s legs, purring lovingly at him.

He drinks iced tea and plays scarabeo with the woman, both laughing at their competitive sides showing off. Jeno is reminded of that one summer he brought Renjun to Livorno, another witty soul for Margherita to love like his own child. Him and Renjun would make ridiculous little reenactments of the books from her bookshelf, acting the dialogue lines for her to clap impressed sitting on the couch. He recalls it to Margherita, who gasps fondly and floods him with questions about Renjun. Jeno keeps a recent photo of them out of his wallet he shows to the woman, cooing at how much they both grew. He decides to give it to Margherita, understanding her better after today’s conversation. He has many printed polaroid pictures at his home, and with the exception of summer days he sees Renjun all year long, knowing how his features crease in expressions by heart. Jeno also has another picture, one he took of Jaemin when he was half asleep in his room, trying to capture a way to keep that moment timeless.

“Do you still love her? Rosa, I mean”. Jeno's head rests in the palm of his hand, on the armchair in the living room with two wide book shelves filled with literature pieces Jeno would love to read all day.

“The young bit of my heart does, how can I forget her”. Margherita’s eyes are dreamy, gleaming and she looks so beautiful right now. “She was smart, always one step above anyone. Too bad our times were so harsh, we loved with shame, felt wrong for so many years. She found a husband not much later and I’m sure she also has grandsons to spoil. I couldn’t, never found one man worth a change of heart”.

“You might not have a husband, but you can still call me your grandson”. Jeno’s face gleams with the woman’s enthusiasm.

 

It’s Thursday when Jeno hears a knock on the door, still sleepy being able to pick up some sleep after three days of almost constant crying. He feels, to a lack of better judgment, like shit. Before his naps will be refreshing and helpful he still needs a whole lot of hours to lay in bed, and comforting minds to distract him and make his pain more bearable.

“Hi beautiful”. Sings Irene, kissing his cheek sweetly before she enters the room, a plastic bag in hand. Her hair is up in a long black ponytail, skin tanned it makes her big eyes even greener. She looks happy, making herself comfortable at the end of Jeno’s bed. “Sit. I won’t be here for long”. Jeno furrows his eyebrows, sitting next to the girl. “Chenle gave me this for you. Today the cleaning lady was busy with room 210”. Jeno gulps, hands hesitantly holding the bag; Jaemin’s room. “They found this and well, I think it belongs to you”.

It’s Jeno’s poetry book, black leather cover with his name engraved in korean. It’s a collection of his favorite poems he got bound by hand thanks to a family friend in Busan. Jeno spent the last week with Jaemin reading most of the book to him, sometimes even reading some korean pieces that had Jaemin look at him like he felt the same as Jeno does. And maybe Jaemin really did, he never asked. Didn’t think it was necessary, but now his brain is haunting him, regretting not even daring to ask that question. Does Jaemin love him? Or did he at least love him during their time spent together? Was it all in Jeno’s head?

“I’ll leave you alone, I’m around here if you need me”. She says carefully, hand petting Jeno’s hair.

“Grazie, love you”. Jeno kisses her cheek, watching the girl leave his room with a reassuring smile. Jeno opens the little book when she closes the door, not sure he wants to read any line inside, this very significant object for Jeno now even more drenched in memories of him and Jaemin, still too fresh to be looked at with fond gloom. How many days have to pass before it will finally stop hurting?

As he flips through the pages mindlessly, a sticky note falls on his hand, the faded pink kind they have at the reception and Jeno’s heart skips a bit, a familiar churn he hasn’t felt in almost a week now. It’s Jaemin’s handwriting, a number scribbled clear enough to be decipherable and a small dart next to it with some written words.

“In case you want to hold on what we had into colder days, I’m not sure you’ll still need me by that time. You belong to the moon Jeno, I’ll always know where to look to find you”.

Jeno feels a tear fall down his hand, almost staining the note. He rushes to get up, walking towards his grandmother’s house, almost forgetting to wear his shoes, soles burning with how fast he keeps his steps. England is only one hour behind in time, it’s not that late, Jeno thinks with his fingers holding the wire of his grandmother’s phone, teeth stuttering from how nervous he is. The long monotone beeping of the line sounds different, and he’ll apologize to his grandmother if the phone bill gets expensive, maybe pay for it if he answers.

“Hello?”. Voice dipped with honey, slightly hauled. A violent beat of his heart.

“Hey idiot, you left me with a leaking cask in my eyes, do you know why?”.

“Jeno? No baby, why is it? God, I missed you”.

Jeno’s stomach is twisting so much he wants to chicken out, end the call and run as far as possible from that phone, as if Jaemin could chase him from there.

“Because suddenly I can’t tell anymore if I fell in love or asleep with you. I’m sure I did both”.

There’s silence, made of the tiny buzzing of the line, a call coming far away from where Jaemin is, their distance more real now he can hear the gorgeous receptionist’s metallic voice.

“Me too, Jeno. Ti amo”. Jaemin huffs a small laugh, maybe of relief. “I don’t want to say it in english because you know it can be misunderstood with me simply caring about you, no. Ti amo, I feel wrenched from you”.

“It all ended so soon”. Jeno sniffles, he hates being weak, even if this summer is teaching him how love does that to you. It’s not necessarily bad to be tender, to let someone see your fragility. Jeno kept the door semi open for Jaemin to walk inside, bringing hope, one that doesn’t typically belong to Jeno.

“Doesn’t have to end. We can- come to Bristol. Or we can book a hotel in London, spend some time together”. Jaemin sighs. “You’re still going to be in Italy until the end of September, it’s better if you fly here now you’re still in Europe”.

“Then what? Our week in London will end Nana. Then what are we going to do?”.

“We can manage. Look Jeno, I know relationships are work and long distance ones are harder but this week has been awful. I tried so hard to not call the Hotel’s number and hear you. I don’t think I can live a life that doesn’t even have the prospect of seeing you, that anticipation. If I know for sure you want this too, I can wait for you all the way from Incheon if necessary”.

“I want to, Jaemin. We can–we can try”. Jeno smiles, noticing his grandmother trying to eavesdrop, face peeking from the living room’s threshold. “My family knows. They think you’re handsome”.

Jaemin chuckles, sounding surprised. “Do they? I’m flattered. They are amazing, of course, they raised you”.

“I’ve been a little malfunctioning without you”.

“That makes the two of us. Donghyuck was about to strangle me, says I’m insufferable these days. I don’t know how you do it, really. I guess that makes you special”.

“I found your note only fifteen minutes ago, sorry for making you wait. How is Donghyuck?”.

“Don’t apologize. Hyuck, well, he’s being his usual self… you didn’t hear it from me, but he said he misses you a lot”.

“Then I should be quick to book a flight to London”. Jeno smiles, that enamored type he's only been giving Jaemin without even realizing until he was gone, eyes fond even when he can’t see him. They end up talking for an hour, apologetic smile when he hangs up and he faces his grandmother, her just with glinting eyes in curiosity wanting to know how it went.

 

Jeno thought this time in his life he couldn’t bring a lifejacket and had to let Jaemin go far away from him, until maybe the sea’s flow would have brought him back. It is absurd Jaemin thought Jeno wouldn’t want to latch on to something so good and pure born in the burning heat of the worst summer month for a regular bather like him, reason why with all the names he could have called Jaemin a week before on the phone he decided to go for “Idiot”. He took a suitcase in hand flying on an airplane again, one that bringing him where a piece of his heart decided to walk far, carelessly so.

Maybe it was meant to be someone from Bristol like Jaemin. Jeno Lee had all his life and significant relationships scattered across the world. Incheon, Seoul, Castiglioncello, Vancouver.

It’s not going to be easy, not at all. Their distance is big, and phone calls are not enough for people like them. Jaemin needs and loves through touch, pretty words that make their hearts flutter are beautiful but after months of being separated and swept with their lives the weight of their relationship feels lost to the distance. Yet, as they promised, they’re managing. Even after some ugly fights that wobbled Jeno’s trust in their relationship for a moment of tears and broken voices on the phone repeating despite it all, they can do this, because Jeno loves Jaemin and he knows it’s mutual. Because they’re strong.

Jaemin will get a scholarship and move to Seoul’s university. It’s not Incheon but thirty minutes of distance are nothing compared to the one of two continents. Jaemin will stay for a few months at Jeno’s house, looking for an apartment, learning every single bit of Jaemin that can’t be hidden being so close everyday. And how domestic it feels to have Jaemin eating lunch with his family on Sundays, or Jeno slipping with endless kisses in Jaemin’s small university apartment shared with Jisung, who gladly offers him a free spot there once he gets to know Jaemin moved.

They’re going to love, in every form, every gasp and bodies tangled together through different seasons, the atrocious summer heat forgotten to winter’s goosebumps. Jeno will count on a hand intertwining with his between distressed sighs before an exam, he will encourage Jaemin and hug him tight with hope when his resident permit will face some problems and they’ll be scared Jaemin could be sent back to Bristol. Jeno learns to have hope, shapes more into a dreamer when he and Jaemin make it all possible.

Sometimes Jaemin will miss Donghyuck and his family, and Jeno will feel bad because he knows he is the one sacrificing so much for the sake of their relationship. Jaemin is selfless, heart pure, reminding Jeno he wants to be close to him and nothing can falter his decision. Those days Jeno will let Jaemin alone, maybe linger by the kitchen with Jisung and Jaemin will talk for hours with Donghyuck, feeling lighter and most times hugging Jeno to sleep.

His family will love him, and Renjun will adore Jaemin so much with all their funny banters, building a bond so strong that makes Jeno's heart bubbly with happiness. It will be worth the first year of pain, of waiting and finding each other in their arms, always warm and ready to not let go. They will fight, over stupid things, sometimes things not as foolish. They will make up, they always do.

These are all things Jeno doesn’t know he will have to care about yet.

There’s nothing like it, Jeno thinks, nose caving in the crook of Jaemin’s neck, his warm breath tickling his skin, not sure if he’s laughing or crying. Warm brown eyes and the pretty slope of a nose Jeno reaches to kiss, not caring about the moving and busy bodies all around the airport after the first week of September 1992.

His home and heart stands on two long legs and a dazzling smile, made of the charms of a receptionist in an italian hotel lobby working on a boring night of august.

“You were my wish for that night you went stargazing alone, Jeno”.