Love is easy.
You meet someone, you talk, a connection sparks and boom, there you have it. Every single romance novel Wonwoo had read detailed this in the exact same order, acting as a guide for the lovesick and lonely to project themselves onto. Most times a major fight occurs, maybe a jealous third party to spice things up, but the outcome rarely changes.
“Love is easy.” Wonwoo grumbles to himself, eyes fixated on the single vertical line blinking in and out on the blank document. His frustration bubbles with each passing second– the white page contrasting the darkness of his office and burning out his retinas.
Wonwoo lets out one last groan before his head falls to the table with a painful thud.
Love comes as naturally as fear. So shouldn’t writing a romance and writing a horror be basically the same? He just has to introduce the characters, set the mood, sprinkle in a bit of conflict and tie it all up with a confession. All without the risk being sent to jail if anyone saw his search history.
Just then, the door swings open and a stream of light cuts through the room. The author squints at the sudden assault to his eyes as if he hadn’t been staring at a screen for two days straight, “Please close the door.”
“Wonwoo, what did I tell you about writing in the dark?”
Ignoring the plea, Jeonghan walks towards the curtains and yanks them open. A flood of sunlight pours into the shipwreck of an office, earning a groan from the author. As Wonwoo’s trusted editor, Jeonghan has taken up the responsibility of checking on Wonwoo once every few days to make sure he wasn’t a rotting corpse before the deadline is due. As his friend, however, the elder takes it upon himself to haul the younger’s ass out of that leather seat when he has been working for too long.
“God, you look crusty. When was the last time you drank something?” Jeonghan crinkles his nose at the six dirty mugs sitting around the author, “Coffee doesn’t count.”
A lunch box is dropped unceremoniously in front of Wonwoo, “I just started something,” the author doesn’t bat an eye when Jeonghan snatches the laptop from him, instead fixated on what would be his first proper meal in days, “I didn’t know you could cook.”
“I can’t. Cheol made it.” murmurs the other, scanning the words critically, “I like the beginning. Pretty creepy.”
Ouch , Wonwoo drops the empty lunchbox on the table, “I’m writing a romance.” He ignores the slight sting when the editor starts laughing, but the editor doesn’t stop. So much for adding salt in the wound.
Creepy, along with its many other synonyms, were usually welcomed when it comes to his usual stories of man-eating monsters and monstrous men, not when he’s trying to write about two people falling in love.
The editor finally calms down to a chuckle but Wonwoo’s blank stare remains and the grin slips from Jeonghan’s face, “Wait you’re serious.”
“Oh.” he threads more carefully, “Well, that’s refreshing.”
For an experienced author with seven best selling horror novels under his belt, suddenly changing genres is not something someone as rigid and structured as Wonwoo would do,“Why though?” Jeonghan pinches his own arm for good measure.
“Jun bought some of that dreadful chinese wine the other day and we ended up arguing which was harder to write, horror or romance.”
Ah. Now it makes more sense.
Jun, the author of a handful of heart throbbing love stories and a certified heart throb himself, is possibly the only force capable of forcing Wonwoo out of his shell. By that, it meant breaking the author’s icy persona and unleashing the competitive college frat boy buried deep within from 5 years ago.
“That’s an awfully petty reason.” Jeonghan scoffs, doing a pretty good job at masking whatever emotion is brewing underneath that angelic facade, “Also, don’t you think your love story should be put off for a while? You just published a book two months ago and the holidays are coming soon.”
Wonwoo knows what the elder means. It means his editor wants a break to snog his boyfriend without the author calling him at 2 am to check the drafts.
“Don’t worry,” Wonwoo hums half-heartedly, “I’m going on vacation, I’ll send it to you later.”
It has been years since Wonwoo last went to the villa.
The building was already old back then and is ancient at this point. His family used to come stay in it every summer to combat the heatwaves with cold fresh air. It sounds like the perfect summer getaway until you hear the locals whispering about the spirits inhabiting its walls, each new story more absurd than the last.
Like all horror sites, cell service is nonexistent and the two-story house a twenty minute walk down to the small town below. If being cut from human civilization wasn’t enough: the floorboards creak randomly throughout the day, the guest bedroom is always cold no matter the weather, and sunlight cannot reach certain corners of the house, making them perfect homes for the creatures in Wonwoo’s books.
Sure, the villa is unsettling, but Wonwoo has always been blissfully unaware. Perhaps they’re alike that way.
Back then, Wonwoo only reached his father’s hip, as marked on the wooden door frame of the entrance. The author runs a hand over the carved lines going up, detailed with numbers from 6 all the way to 15 to indicate his growth. A fond smile tugs at his lips as he makes his way inside and as expected, clumps of dust and an eerie silence welcome him.
At 4 in the afternoon, the house is spotless and the ominous ambience clouding it is gone– It seems happier, almost. The grumbling of his stomach sends Wonwoo down the mountain to stock up on a week’s worth of groceries. This way, his focus will not be hindered by his body’s needs to feed. On his walk down, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Jeonghan nags at him about working when he is supposed to be on break. He argues with it long enough to let muscle memory kick in and pushes open the glass doors to an old diner.
Upon entry, a flurry of savoury scents spark old memories. The family diner hasn’t changed a bit since he last visited, from the cracked leather sofas to the old school music playing through grating speakers. Wonwoo spots the owner talking to other customers; A kind old lady with small hands who used to give them extra portions of meat when his family came over.
“Hey, welcome to Kim’s family diner. I’m Mingyu and I’ll be your waiter today, here’s a menu.”
A booklet wrapped in tattered plastic slides onto the table and Wonwoo knows he doesn’t need to look at it to order. He flips through the pages regardless but his eyes are barely trained on the words. Instead, Wonwoo keeps glancing over at the waiter humming along to the music.
“Take your time,” the waiter flashes his pearly canines in a grin, “you’re not from here aren’t you?”
Wonwoo raises an eyebrow, “What gave it away?” It’s hard to ascertain if the sun-kissed waiter was just observant, or if the author was too conspicuous. Either way, being called out isn’t really the best feeling.
“For starters, you’re actually looking at the menu.”
Wonwoo must have made a face since Mingyu bursts out laughing. A hearty, boisterous sound that manages to infect the author’s lips to curve upwards. The ghost of the waiter’s little fit remains as a smirk while he writes down Wonwoo’s order, before disappearing into the kitchen.
Strange . The author shakes his head before pulling out his laptop, thinking he might as well get some work done as he waits. Instead of a blank page, Wonwoo looks back to his failed first chapter. He scans the words once, twice, wondering where he went wrong. Anxious fingers continue rapping on the table until Mingyu returns with a tray of food and the promise of a delicious meal subsides his frustrations.
“You write?” asks the waiter, carefully setting down a steaming bowl of soup. The author catches a surprised glimmer in Mingyu’s eyes when he nods, “What kind of stories do you write?”
Wonwoo takes a second to respond when his stomach growls at the meal laid out before him– smells exactly like home.
“I’m trying to write a love story.”
“I love romances.” the last of the side dishes are laid out and Mingyu hugs the tray to his chest, “I hope to read yours soon, uhh..”
“Wonwoo-ssi. I look forward to your love story.” Another smile follows Mingyu’s words before he is beckoned away. Wonwoo finds himself smiling back.
Wonwoo welcomes the silence that comes with being secluded up in the mountains, though he can see why too much of it can be maddening. The only thing that reminds him of the outside world is the occasional squirrel scurrying on the roof– or at least he hopes it's a squirrel. The author hasn’t slept a wink yet and is also not progressing from the same page of the second chapter. What time is it?
Ah, the sun is out.
A craving for korean pancakes sends Wonwoo wobbling to the family diner right on time as the store opens its doors. The bell above rings upon his entry and he is greeted by the tall waiter from yesterday, who perks up from where he was wiping a table.
“You’re up early.” It amazes him how awake the waiter is, his eyes full of life when Wonwoo is dragging himself like the undead.
The old music is playing again, a trot song this time. Despite the zesty trumpets, it lulls the author into a yawn, “Haven’t slept, actually.”
Hearing that, Mingyu grimaces and jots down his order.
“Soooo how’s your story going?” curiosity twinkles in the waiter’s eyes when he comes with a tray of freshly fried pancakes and a hot cup of ginseng coffee.
Wonwoo claims he’s not a coffee guy and stands by it, only drinking it for the sake of caffeine. However, the hot drink dispersing warmth down his throat is pleasantly sweet, and the slight bitterness from the herb snaps his eyes open.
“I’ve only finished the first chapter,” Wonwoo glances at Mingyu and in a moment of madness, pulls out his phone, “Would you like to read it?”
The twinkle bursts into pure excitement, “Really?”
Wonwoo opens up the document and hands it to the waiter who seats himself on the opposite side of the booth. He never shares his work-in-progresses, much less to a stranger, but it was a draft after all– and the two would probably never meet again after this month-long break. No harm in getting a second opinion.
Wonwoo bites into his pancakes, all while eyeing the man before him for his reaction. Even with the haze of sleep deprivation, he can tell the man is beautiful.
Mingyu has his head down, reading intently, and his long lashes flutter with each blink. The sun ray’s path hits the waiter straight on and sets the man ablaze, tan skin turning bronze and brown eyes glowing amber. Mingyu looks like the male lead he’d find in Jun’s books, or someone who’d piss the Chinese man off for taking his place as resident loverboy.
Mingyu sighs. Not as lovestruck as the author had hoped, bordering on woeful, “Have you ever been in love?”
“What kind of question is that?” Should Wonwoo be offended? But Mingyu’s tone sounds sincere, as if he’s genuinely worried for the author’s love life, “Of course I have, I think.”
Despite being whispered, Mingyu catches the last part, “Well, you can’t write a love story if you’ve never fallen in love.”
An eyebrow is raised at the statement, “Why not?”
Funny enough, Jun had told him the same thing except with a sly grin as opposed to the disgruntled look on the waiter’s face, “Fear and love are the same, and I never had to actually stab a man to know that he would die.”
Time freezes for a second and Wonwoo sees the waiter’s expression growing worried.
“I’m originally a horror writer.” he explains, noting how the tension seeps out of Mingyu’s body. A smile returns as the younger leans against his hand, sliding the phone back across the table.
“I think your main lead’s problem is that she’s too cautious, too closed off.”
One thing Wonwoo notices in the brief moments with the waiter is that Mingyu always maintains eye contact, painfully so. He talks about the characters yet his eyes are stuck on the author and the male shudders.
“If a stranger goes up to you, grabs your hand-” Wonwoo feels calloused skin grazing his knuckles, replicating the scenario. Nothing comes to the author’s head when it's filled with a thunderous heartbeat pounding in his ears. Blood rushes to his cheeks as Mingyu stares at him, warm hands wrapped firmly around his cold one.
“How would you feel?”
His heart lurches in his chest when Mingyu inches closer with eyes that drag him deeper. To where, he doesn’t know yet, “I feel-”
Wonwoo has to think rationally.
“Fear. I’d feel fear.”
The light visibly dies from Mingyu’s eyes. His head droops forwards, forehead leaning on their clasped hands.
“To be fair, I only wrote horror stories before this.” An admittedly weak explanation as Wonwoo slowly pulls his hand away, “I’m sure I can figure it out by reading more books.”
“You can’t study love like that, it’s like- ” Mingyu recovers from his mood and shoots up straight. His hands grab at the air, gesturing at an emotion that is foreign to the confused author. The younger did mention his love for romance books, so Wonwoo waits for him to calm down and give up explaining.
Surprisingly, Mingyu doesn’t. To save the man from himself, Wonwoo pulls a reverse, “Then how would you feel if a stranger did that to you?”
It clearly works as the waiter stops gurgling on syllables. Those pearly canines make their appearance as Mingyu’s head cock to the side, “I’d want us to be more than strangers. Maybe it can turn into a budding romance.”
Wonwoo finds the very notion absurd.
The way Mingyu says it so easily is as if he could just fall in love with the next person that comes into the diner. His answer is too confident. Too reckless .
“It isn’t that easy, Mingyu.”
The hand of hypocrisy hits him upside the head and it stings.
It's dark outside before Wonwoo notices the soft patter of rain against his window. His phone reads seven p.m.– the chain of cracks from his spine as he stands up is a sure sign for a break from writing for hours on end. The stairs creak as the author makes his way downstairs for another lonesome dinner. Today’s menu is instant ramen, and Wonwoo ignores the way his blood pressure cries for help.
Just as the water starts to boil, three knocks echo from the entrance. Wonwoo wasn’t expecting any visitors, and no one casually went to the villa in the middle of the mountains. Even if the latter was the case, why would they be polite enough to knock? A pair of metal chopsticks sit in the author’s hand as he looks into the peephole.
Outside, Mingyu is distracted by something next to the door. Wonwoo watches as the man shifts his weight to the other leg, then again, until their eyes meet through the peephole. Wonwoo can’t hide his existence anymore and heaves a sigh.
“Hi.” The surprise visitor smiles, canines and all, before removing the hood of his soaked raincoat. Wonwoo eyes the man, his fist hesitating to put down the chopsticks. Years of research on criminal behaviour triggers the red flags in his brain; Mingyu could be a serial killer for all he knows. Maybe that’s why he asked if Wonwoo was an outsider, making him prime meat. God, is it possible to weaponize chopsticks?
The floorboards creak above them, forcing a squeak out of the large male and Wonwoo stares incredulously. The sight alone is enough for the author to discard his weapon.
“It’s raining.” A strong gust of wind ushers them inside. Now in the comfort of a roof and a functioning heater, Wonwoo’s eyes fall to the bundle cradled in Mingyu’s arms as he shimmies off his coat, “How did you get my address?”
“My grandmother told me you lived in the haunted house,” The two walk towards the dining table where Mingyu unwraps it. Inside are tupperwares filled with piping hot ox-tail soup, just how Wonwoo and his mother used to get. Oddly enough, a few paperback novels sit above the food.
“It’s not haunted.” It is simply misunderstood, though it came out a little defensive, “What’s all this?”
Mingyu grins sheepishly, “You haven’t been coming to the diner and my grandmother thought you’d go hungry. I’m more worried you’d get lonely though.”
That’s impossible. Wonwoo enjoys the silence and had long adjusted to being left to his own devices. Also, despite denying it earlier, the author often finds solace in the thought that maybe he wasn’t alone in the old villa after all.
“Also you said you were gonna read more romance novels so I brought some of my favourites.” Mingyu lays the books out on the table, five in total. It wasn’t a surprise to find one of Jun’s books among the lot and Wonwoo tries not to grimace– him knowing full well what goes on behind the creation of said books. Read: a lot of help from his boyfriend Minghao, and a lot of trauma for Wonwoo having walked in on them.
He shudders the thought away to thank the younger man, “Well, I suppose I can’t finish all of these myself.” Wonwoo tilts his head towards the food, trying not to stare too long when Mingyu beams at him.
They finished dinner in record time, with both men having equally large appetites. Their idle chat over dinner turned into a discussion about anything and everything: the existence of spirits, humanity, if aliens are real, and if watery kimchi or fried kimchi was better.
It’s bordering midnight when Mingyu begins to yawn and Wonwoo sees the conflict in the waiter’s eyes, darting from his phone to the front door. The rain shows no signs of subsiding. Added, the addition of thunder booming above them has Mingyu jumping every few minutes. His large shaky eyes build an urge in Wonwoo to wrap a blanket around the poor man.
“I’m sorry there’s no service, but you can try the landline.” Wonwoo takes up the space next to the younger where he stands in the living room, chewing his bottom lip. Mingyu nods and looks down at his phone again when the other says, “Though I don’t think it's safe to go back down until the rain stops.”
They both know it’s true. A sigh leaves the younger’s lips.
“Would you like to stay over for the night?”
It’s too late for Wonwoo to bite back his words upon realizing how suspicious he sounded. A stranger you’ve only met twice, who lives up in the woods alone where no one can hear you scream, suddenly offers for you to stay over– the villains in Wonwoo’s books could have done better. And to think he had suspected Mingyu to be the serial killer just prior.
“Really?” Instead of a polite decline, Wonwoo finds himself on the receiving end of a blinding smile, “Then I’ll be in your care.”
In the ungodly hours of the morning, sounds start coming from down the hallway.
Outside, the rain has stopped but the winds howled on, shaking the trees with each blow. Wonwoo has barely finished typing, fingers hovering over the keyboard when footsteps came bounding closer and closer. The author quickly gets up and makes his way to his bedroom door. Was it a robber? Did Jeonghan find out he’s working? No, the footsteps are too heavy.
Mingyu , his brain offers.
The author throws open his bedroom door, unknowingly using enough force to yank forward whoever was holding the knob on the other side. Wonwoo hears the man yelp as they both collapse to the ground, the air forced out of his lungs while Mingyu’s weight crushes him.
“Something grabbed my foot, Something grabbed my foot-” stammers the man above him, eyes trembling in fear. With their bodies pressed together, Wonwoo becomes hyper aware of the heartbeat jackhammering against his chest. The thin layer of their clothes did nothing to muffle the rhythmic beat, and how his own had synced with it. Two pounding hearts, one of fear and the other of…
A strong arm pulls the author up from the floor, muttering quick apologies and an ‘are you okay’. For someone so big, Wonwoo should have known Mingyu was that strong. He bites back an inaudible gasp, regaining balance in his stance.
“Mingyu, are you sure you didn’t imagine it?”
Sure, the guest room was a little dark and cold, but it was empty the last time he checked. The younger male nods desperately, tears hinting at the corners of his eyes yet Wonwoo finds him beautiful still. Adjusting his glasses that had gone crooked, the author racks his brain.
“Do you want to switch rooms?” It was the only plausible option, Wonwoo thinks. Judging from his reaction, Wonwoo ruled out the living room as the creaking floorboards would only do more damage to Mingyu’s panicked state.
“You want to sleep there ? Absolutely not, whatever tried to get me will get you instead.”
A small smile grows on Wonwoo’s face, meaning to be teasing but the fondness seeps through. He has to be joking , but the pale complexion on Mingyu’s face seems to reflect otherwise. Besides, he and the villa go way back. So if anything did try to get him, then it would have done so long ago.
“Fine, I won’t go. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping anyways,” a yawn nearly escapes Wonwoo, earning him a skeptical look– Even though the bags under his eyes were terrible, especially with the dim light of the table lamp that deepened the shadows of his face, “I just got inspired, so you can take the bed.”
A hand circles loosely around his wrist, shaking it in a weak protest, “I can’t just take the bed, you need to sleep too.”
Wonwoo watches the pout form on the other’s lips. With sleep weighing down his eyelids, Mingyu’s droopy puppy look could be catastrophic if he learned to weaponize it.
Guilt crawls underneath the elder’s skin until he gives in, “All right, just leave me a bit of space. I’ll squeeze in later.”
Mingyu looks pleased with this answer and lets go, dragging himself to the bed while Wonwoo retreats to the desk. He casts one last backwards look, seeing a large lump settling under the covers before tapping the laptop back to life.
“Don’t sleep too late. Good night.”
The author brings a hand up to his chest, feeling the subtle thu-thump against his palm, “Good night, Mingyu.”
The little sleepover turns out to be a catalyst for Mingyu coming over to the villa more often despite still jumping every creak and groan. On the days when the waiter was too busy, Wonwoo would head down to the diner instead. It’s a pleasant routine they have, one where Mingyu talks of his daily antics while Wonwoo listens, occasionally letting the younger read snippets of his love story.
On a particularly fine day, the author migrates to the front porch to soak up the last few days of sunlight before winter takes over. The winds have started to prick against his cheek when they blow by– he should leave for Seoul before the snow falls. When Wonwoo isn’t busy typing away, he spends his time reading the books Mingyu had brought over. For research.
It’s not to say he doesn’t see the appeal in these tales of glamorized romance. They’re too perfect to be real, and that’s exactly what keeps the reader wanting more. To dream for a fairytale of their own. It’s the same with horror. Oftentimes his tales are so horrendous that you’d tag along to see how they stop or better yet, how the terror never really goes away.
The crunch of gravel breaks the author’s focus. Turning around, Wonwoo spots six feet of Mingyu climbing up the porch steps. In the younger’s arms is a bundle, which he carefully sets down on the small coffee table before taking the loveseat next to the author.
“I can cook, you know.” Wonwoo slips a tissue between the pages and puts down the book, “You don’t always have to bring food.”
“Yes, but we both know you suck at it,” Mingyu quips, opening the bundle to reveal a tupperware of kimchi stew and rice, “Also my grandmother loves you. Which is unfair, since I’m her favourite grandson.”
Wonwoo casts a side glance to see the younger stuffing his cheeks with rice, lips pursed in a pout– For someone so big, Mingyu has a habit of acting endearingly small.
“I need to pay her back sometime.”
“Absolutely not.” Wonwoo drops a piece of spam onto Mingyu’s bowl as he keeps shaking his head, “Bold of you to assume she’d let you pay.”
He can’t argue with that. She reminds the author of his own grandmother, and how his grandfather loved to recount their young love when Wonwoo came to visit for the new years. To find love that lasts until they are grey, that’s a miracle itself.
Wonwoo watches as the red stew stains his rice, a growing puddle of red in a pool of white, “Hey can I ask you something? For research, that is.”
“How would you know if you liked someone?”
The pace of Mingyu’s chewing slows down, their eyes meeting for a second. Those dark pupils reflect surprise, as well as something too fast for Wonwoo to pinpoint.
Mingyu takes a while to answer. For someone spontaneous enough to stay over at a stranger’s home in their second meeting, the sudden change piques Wonwoo's curiosity, “Your heart goes crazy when you’re close to them. But in a good way, not in a heart attack way.”
For a moment, it sounded like a genuine answer until Mingyu continued with the sarcastic finish, earning an eye roll, “I may be a horror writer, but death isn’t the only thing on my mind.”
“Am I on your mind then?” the younger tries, tongue pressed against his cheek to stop the cheeky grin threatening to break through.
Wonwoo’s eyes might as well roll to the back of his head. He refuses to entertain the male further, taking to pushing together the last two grains of rice at the bottom of his bowl, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Eventually, the two fall into a comfortable silence until Wonwoo feels a nudge to his knee. Looking up from his half-eaten meal, Mingyu signals to the door frame carved with lines and numbers. The author explains that they represented his height, failing to notice the twinkle in the younger’s eyes.
Mingyu gets up from his seat, abandoning his food to stand next to the doorframe.
“You were only up to here,” he levels his hand with the number 15, pleased it only lined to his chest, “Why did you stop after fifteen? Did you stop growing?” The younger’s grin is dripping with smugness and Wonwoo is once again considering turning chopsticks into a weapon.
“We stopped coming here after moving to Seoul. My parents were too busy with work and a 5 hour drive does not sound like a good weekend plan.” He thought of the latter while on the way back this time as well, though Wonwoo was regretting the back pain it caused with each passing day.
“Hmm, hold on a second.” he watches as Mingyu opens the door and enters on his own accord, returning a minute later with something in his hands. It’s a screwdriver, the same one he used to set up a new shelf in the bedroom with the other a few days prior.
It spins around in Mingyu’s hands, “Since you’re back here after so long, let’s mark it.” Completely ignoring the fact that he’s going to be carving on someone else’s doorway.
Wonwoo really isn’t at the age where he gets excited about things like that anymore but as he watches Mingyu bounce on his feet, stupidly bright smile at full force, he’s backed into a corner. Setting down his empty bowl with a sigh, the author lets himself be maneuvered towards the frame.
A large hand presses against Wonwoo’s chest, pushing him back until the post aligns with his back. Mingyu doesn’t remove his hand, slightly to the left, right above where Wonwoo’s heart begins to pound upon realizing the lack of distance between them. Above him, Mingyu is focused on scratching a mark on the post.
The rapid thumps of his heart show no sign of stopping– Which is unfortunate, since he thinks it's a good time to flatline when Mingyu tilts his chin upwards.
“Don’t look down. I haven’t finished marking it.”
The author hums weakly, exhaling shakily through his nose. At the very least, Mingyu wouldn’t be able to feel his insane heartbeat anymore.
Five minutes feels like five hours until the taller male takes a step back. Clearing his throat, the elder tries to keep his voice steady, “Do you want me to mark yours too?” his cheeks are flushed red, definitely attributed to the cold gust of wind blowing by.
Hearing this, Mingyu stands against the post– obedient as ever. As the author approaches, Mingyu grins down at Wonwoo’s little head shake, further struggling to bite back a smile when he starts tip-toeing.
“Hey, stand up right.” Wonwoo diverts his eyes away as Mingyu continues to stare on, eyes never moving from his face. “Are you laughing at me?”
“No, it’s just,” Mingyu’s head dips down, shoulders shaking as a chuckle escapes him, “You’re kinda cute like this.”
The air leaves Wonwoo’s lungs and he is forced to breathe in, inhaling a cold shock to his brain. He buffers for a few seconds, face ironed flat before bringing down the screwdriver on Mingyu’s head. Not hard enough to hurt but enough to send the younger laughing again, defeating the purpose.
“I’m the one with a weapon here, you better watch it.” There’s no bite to his words, and Wonwoo’s lips tilt upwards to mirror Mingyu’s smile. That damned smile , infectious as ever, “Your rice is going cold.”
Mingyu lets out a noise and goes to quickly gobble the last of his food, leaving Wonwoo to carve his initials next to the mark. Once done, the author takes a step back. 1 year difference, 5 centimeters apart.
It’s been more than a decade since the last addition, and this time he isn’t the only one up the post.
The month flashes by. Nights of idle chat and days of roaming around town blurred into one continuous stream. Wonwoo doesn’t remember the wall he had put up when meeting Mingyu, this local waiter who broke it all down within a handful of shared meals. The power of bribery, he thinks, and not how easy it was to get comfortable around the younger.
It’s his last night and what better than to spend it at the diner. The bell announces his arrival as Wonwoo scans the place, embedding the image into his mind. When can he return, the author can’t answer that yet. Jeonghan has been blowing up his phone ever since he clicked send on the draft file, which itself is an omen of the impending work ahead.
Wonwoo shakes the thought away. He’ll think of work later, when he arrives in Seoul. For now, a grumble from his stomach urges the man to order faster.
“Wonwoo!” The author whips his head around to find Mrs. Kim beckoning at him, as cheery as ever, “Come sweetie, Mingyu’s out shopping so let me cook for you instead.”
He is pulled to a booth, surprised at her strength despite her age. By the second week of his stay, Wonwoo never bothered ordering as Mingyu had it memorized like the back of his hand. It seems Mrs.Kim does too; The old lady walks away after laying down the side dishes, but something about her words struck him as odd.
All this time, Wonwoo thought Mrs. Kim did all the cooking– at least, that’s what Mingyu never fails to mention whenever he comes around to the villa. The thought of Mingyu cooking sparks the image of said male in an apron, standing in a kitchen that looks awfully familiar to the one in his apartment, his smile brighter than the sun behind him.
Darkness overcomes his vision.
Wonwoo jumps before his shoulders fall back down, hands reaching up to his eyes. Humming in thought, he basks in the warmth of slender fingers over his eyelids and prominent knuckles underneath his fingertips, “Sounds like my next victim.”
Mingyu retracts with a shudder, taking his place across the elder, “Don’t say things like that,” the pout returns onto his lips and Wonwoo reaches over to pat his hand, “If I went missing, people would suspect you first.”
“Sounds like someone has been reading my books.” The author picks at a piece of kimchi to subside his hunger. However, his mouth hangs open when Mingyu nods.
Not one to miss an opening, the younger steals the piece from Wonwoo’s chopsticks, “Why do you look so surprised?”
“Don’t you hate horror?” the elder goes to pick up another piece. From the back of his mind, a memory resurfaces to prove his point. Mingyu could barely look at the television that one night when they decided to watch a movie together– settling on a classic slasher film since Wonwoo won the game of rock-paper-scissors. Mingyu hadn’t said anything then, so he had assumed the younger was too engrossed in it. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. The man had scooted closer with each jumpscare, eventually curling up into Wonwoo’s chest and asleep by the end of the film.
“I wanted to know more about what goes on in that pretty head of yours,” Behind them, Mrs. Kim calls out to her grandson, stopping short of yelling his full name when she sees the two boys conversing. As he stands up, Mingyu throws a wink, oblivious to the turmoil bubbling underneath Wonwoo’s blank exterior.
There was no meal, but a feast. Both Mingyu and Mrs.Kim turned their gazes away after filling the table with plate upon plate of food.
“It’s your last meal here, sweetie,” the woman ruffles his hair, and her warmth eases the wrinkles between Wonwoo’s eyebrows, “Besides, Mingyu went out of his way to get those abalones you like so much.”
The aforementioned nods in support, sitting down across the booth, “So you better start digging in before I take it back.”
Wonwoo doesn’t remember mentioning his love for abalones.
Safe to say, all the plates were wiped clean. The author had insisted on sharing the food with the two who had cooked it, both grandmother and grandson having grown a soft spot for him. It was domestic, so much that the author forgets he’s supposed to be on the road in a few hours. It’s hard to tell when he’d grown so attached to the villa, to the town and to the old music playing from the speakers; So much that he can’t see himself eating a meal without that same old trot song, either from the speakers or from Mingyu humming.
A weight settles in his chest.
From start to finish, Mingyu doesn’t leave the elder’s side, attached to him like a leach the author doesn’t have the heart to remove. He even walks the elder home, enjoying the last 20 minute hike up the mountain. The higher they go, the heavier Wonwoo feels.
The temperature has dropped within the last few days and it has grown cold enough that their breaths come out in puffs of white. With the leaves crunching beneath their feet, their comfortable silence is broken when Wonwoo speaks,
“Hey Mingyu, can I ask you something?”
The younger male turns to him, lips frozen in an ‘o’ from when he was whistling, “For research?”
It isn’t a lie if Wonwoo said yes, but the voice in his head knows it’s a no. Fortunately, Mingyu picks up on his prolonged pause and hums, urging the author to continue.
“What would you do if-” The question sits on his tongue, dragging heat to his cheeks as their footsteps begin to slow down. Wonwoo breathes out.
He tries again, “What should you do if you like someone?”
Next to him, a pleased grin curls onto Mingyu’s lips. Even with the moonlight shining down on the two figures, Mingyu’s smile remains the brightest. Wonwoo manages a curt nod and continues their pace upwards. His step is faster than before, quickly overtaking the younger to hide any unwarranted change in expression.
Behind the author, Mingyu’s voice is loud against the night’s silence, “I’d make sure the world knows.”
The author scoffs, puffing out a breath more opaque than before as they hike up, “By that, you mean them? Since they’re your whole world?”
“You’re picking up fast, Jeon Wonwoo.” he beams, catching up and knocking their shoulders together. The brief contact sends a shudder through Wonwoo’s body, rolling in a wave that ends with his heartbeat pounding against his rib cage, “But no, really. I’d tell them once I’m sure they like me back.”
The pounding in Wonwoo’s ear is so loud he doesn’t realize Mingyu wrapping an arm over his shoulder, pulling them flush together, until the warmth on his right side diffuses through his whole body. Soon enough the lights on the front porch become visible, two glowing dots in a sea of dark trees. The end of the line.
“What if they don’t like you back?” Their footsteps slow down as the villa looms closer. The sinking hole in his chest starts throbbing when the man beside him remains silent. A dull numbness grows from Wonwoo’s fingertips and the man tries to subside the cold by rubbing his hands together.
“Isn’t it scary though? Confessing.” The gravel crunches beneath their feet, Wonwoo taking one step up the porch. Mingyu catches his hands and encases them in his own. The heat radiating from his palms is more muted than before, but doesn’t fail to warm up everything it touches.
“Yes.” The younger male tilts his head to the side, a slight lilt in his tone, “But being in love makes you braver.”
A fond smile graces his pretty face and Wonwoo exhales. As a writer, he’d describe Mingyu as wildfire, and himself as a piece of wood soaked in ice cold water. Wondering if they’ll ever burn together.
A building pressure pushes against his lungs such that Wonwoo is hardly breathing. Mingyu lets go of his hands to pull something out from his coat pocket. The cold creeps in again, slowed down as the man steps closer, meeting the author eye-to-eye where Wonwoo is elevated by the porch step.
“A parting gift.” It’s a scarf, a roll of scruffy red wool that the author receives gingerly, “You’re always so cold, so make sure to wear it okay? Don’t forget.”
Me , he doesn’t add. But Wonwoo hears him. Mingyu catches the author’s eyes and his lips tighten. It’s a smile, but the light in his eyes waver hesitantly– like a delicate candle flame, and he has given Wonwoo the power to blow it out.
His fingers feel so cold.
But Mingyu’s lips are oh, so warm.
Wonwoo pulls at the scarf, swallowing the gasp leaving Mingyu’s mouth.
He was right, it really did make Wonwoo braver. Brave enough to take the scarf and swing it around Mingyu’s neck. To bring the man closer and crash land to a place of no return. Not like Wonwoo would want to, when Mingyu wraps his arms around his waist, kissing back.
The kiss slowly loses its heat, sizzling out into languid movements where Wonwoo drinks up the warmth of Mingyu’s mouth. The younger latches onto his bottom lip and Wonwoo laughs into the kiss. It’s not a roaring flame yet but the author finally realizes the spark that had long been in him, thawing from the inside out.
“What’s so funny?” There's a breathlessness to the male’s words. Wonwoo buries his head against the younger’s neck, the scruffy fabric itching at his nose.
“Nothing.” he pushes up his glasses and pulls back to look at the other. Mingyu’s eyes are crinkled at the edges, soft lines of adoration and Wonwoo is on the receiving end, “Just never thought things would end up like this.”
An eyebrow is raised in question, “But you like it?” The speculation morphs into the smile Wonwoo has grown weak for, with Mingyu’s hugs coming as a close second.
“I do.” the younger squeezes him, the tightness a perfect physical replica of what’s currently befalling Wonwoo’s heart, “I really do. I think I like you too much. Enough to stay for a few more days.”
And Mingyu glows . So bright it might burn but Wonwoo keeps looking, committing the sight and the taste to memory as Mingyu kisses him once more.
Above them, the stars align.
༻ Epilogue ༺
Best selling horror novelist, Jeon Wonwoo, surprises fans by releasing a 200 page romance novella last week! Many loyal readers were taken aback when the man known for his blood-curdling, fear-inducing works such as Bad Clue, The Tag and Don’t Lie suddenly drops a total 180.
Reviews from avid romance readers claim that the book was “surprisingly good” and “A pure approach to young love”. Critically acclaimed romance novelist, Moon Junhui, says the book was “detailed enough to be a biography” and praises Jeon Wonwoo’s first attempt at a romance.
However, many speculate that author Moon Junhui was teasing at something true and that the ever-cold and mysterious horror novelist has indeed fallen in love! As usual, fans have collected receipts that support this theory.
In the first few pages of the book, you’ll find the Acknowledgements section. If you read through the messages to the last one, you will find an unnamed person with a curious description that says, quote: “To the waiter who can’t read any of my books except this one, thank you for making it easy.”
But that’s not all. Many fans speculate that this mystery waiter might be author Jeon Wonwoo’s hidden muse! This is practically confirmed when fans note one of the iconic lines which goes, quote:
“Love is hard, but falling for him was the easiest.”
Isn't that just heart-fluttering?
But what does this mean?
Is Jeon Wonwoo off the market for good? Who’s the lucky waiter? Is this his official debut into the world of romance?
All this answered in next week’s special interview with the man himself!
This is The8 at eight, once again, thank you for tuning in. See you all soon!