At the beginning of lockdown, there was uncertainty and maybe a little relief. Uncertainty at how long this would last or how severe the pandemic would be. Relief at not having to commute on the crowded metro every day and getting an extra hour in bed every morning.
At first there was the novelty of working from home, having video meetings and setting up a workspace in his apartment. But as the pandemic showed no signs of letting up and curfew and social distancing measures got stricter, Yoongi realised that the walls of his living space had become smaller and darker. His days melted and shifted so that time became almost meaningless and weeks went by without any punctuation that previously the weekends and evenings meeting friends would have brought.
It was eleven months since they’d all been sent from the office to work from home. Six months since he’d been allowed out for a socially distanced date and three months since the virus had mutated and a strict curfew had been put in place.
All the shops and cafes were closed. The most physical affection he had had in the last few weeks was being woken up by Maude, the cat rubbing his face to get let out onto the balcony.
He stared blankly into his wardrobe as he remembered the last time that he had gone out for the afternoon. There had been a lull in new infections, so the restrictions had eased a little. They were allowed out with a mask and shops and cafes were open.
Yoongi and his friend Suran had gone to a favourite bookshop in the city. It was independently owned and was a sprawling maze of old books, music and art. As they entered, he had found an empty corner and pulled his mask just a fraction so the smell of thousands of old books and sheet music could fill his nose. It was the smell of childhood and nostalgia and brought a sense of peace to his chest.
They made their way through the store, to the back where a young man sat at an old upright piano, playing a piece from Carnival of the Animals: VII Aquarium. Yoongi pulled out his phone and recorded it, pointing the camera at the bookshelf, so as to not be completely creepy. It was such an emotional piece and it made him feel full of life every time he listened to it. Hearing it played live was more magical than he could have imagined his day turning out.
As they stood, he was aware of other customers walking around, browsing the books. Everyone was trying to keep a distance, so he made sure he wasn’t in anyone’s way and leaned against a pillar that marked the edge of the music books and the beginning of the classic plays.
He closed his eyes for just a moment, enjoying the majestic crescendo as the pianist’s fingers flew across the keys. He felt a tingle and the tiny hairs on the back of his neck rose with the goosebumps. Opening his eyes, he met the gaze of a tall masked person. As quickly as their eyes met, the person turned away, and all he could see was a tall broad back in a long brown raincoat, dark hair and a red scarf cascading across their shoulders. Yoongi gazed after them as they walked away through the bookshelves until they were out of sight.
A light touch on his arm made him jump.
“Are you ok?” Suran asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine.” he replied, still looking at the space where the person had been. “Did you see them?”
“There was a person, a man I think.”
“They had a mask on, anyway, they were staring at me and it made my hair stand on end.”
“Did they look scary?” Suran asked, concerned.
“No, not at all. It was… I. I don’t know how to describe it. Like they were seeing into my soul.” Suran looked at him intensely for a few seconds and then nodded.
“Come.” She took Yoongi’s wrist and pulled him in the direction of the soul gazer. “You need to find them.”
“What? No I don’t” he protested weakly before giving in. Suran laughed behind her mask.
“You really need to work on your resistance.”
“With you there is no point.” Yoongi huffed, allowing himself to be pulled away.
For half an hour, they traced the person around the shop, catching glimpses of the scarf or the back of the coat, but never being able to see their face. In the end they were queuing to purchase when Suran spotted them passing outside the front window and by the time Yoongi had run to the door, they had disappeared into the rainy street.
Once they’d got home, Suran had insisted on reading Yoongi’s cards.
“If you felt something so strongly then we can’t ignore it.” she had implored.
He drew the Pope.
“A mysterious male figure is coming into your life.” Suran said with decided satisfaction. “That’s it. We saw your soulmate.”
“If he was my soulmate, why didn’t he let me see his face, or stop when he saw me?”
“Because it’s obviously not the right time yet. Just be patient.”
“Yay. Patience.” he said dryly. “My favourite.”
That had been four months ago. Then the lockdown had been announced and everything stopped.
“I am still waiting for you Soulmate.” he sighed as he pulled out a black shirt to go with his black trousers and black cardigan. It was definitely an entirely different outfit from the black ensemble he had worn the day before, and the day before that, but it was undeniable that his wardrobe had acquired a certain theme in the last year.
“Available in any colour you like, as long as it’s black.” he laughed to himself and went to open his laptop for the start of another work day.
One of the highlights of working in his bedroom in winter was the south facing window. He had a view across the city and got the sun all afternoon. By 3pm he actually started to feel quite hot and had stripped off his cardigan and long sleeved shirt, to wear just a capped sleeve T. The only trouble was that he had a video meeting with one of his clients and couldn’t sit there in a tiny t-shirt with his bed hair. It was too hot to put the shirt back on, so he rummaged through his wardrobe to find a lighter top. There was one solitary silk pale blue shirt in amongst the extensive collection of black, and it looked almost crease free. He pulled it on, brushed his hair and settled in front of the laptop in the position where his caller could see his tasteful display of vinyls on their dedicated shelf, but not the pile of laundry on his bed.
The call went well and at the end, the client had commented that the colour of his shirt had suited him. The comment gave him an unexpected boost of confidence and he was inspired to open up his favourite online clothes store and browse through their selection. An hour passed by quickly and he closed the laptop content with a full day's work and pending order.
Online orders were a source of many pleasures these days. The fun of choosing, the adrenalin rush of clicking pay, the anticipation of waiting and then the possibility of bumping into the really hot man who lived next door in the hallway as he collected his parcels from the postboxes in the front entrance of the building.
Hot neighbour was about 30, tall, broad, very pretty and had the most well behaved golden labrador he had ever seen. They would always nod hello and if he was brave, Yoongi would pet the dog and try to make conversation. The furthest they had ever got was agreeing that the weather was great for the time of year and that the dog was called Kiki.
His mailbox was the one next to Yoongi’s own and had so far been the place he’d spotted him most often.
When Yoongi got the notification of delivery a few days later, he made sure he looked presentable before grabbing his keys and running down the 4 flights of stairs to retrieve his package.
He was unlocking the box when he heard footsteps behind him. He put on his cutest smile (as approved by Suran after extensive practice) and turned to greet the neighbour. Except the person putting the key in Hot Neighbour’s mailbox, was not Hot Neighbour.
“Hello!” the person who was not Hot Neighbour said.
“Hello.” he said less brightly than previously intended. “Are you erm..” dammit, he realised after a year of living next door to the man, he still didn’t know his name.
“Are you a friend of Kiki’s owner?”
The man smiled.
“No! I just moved in today. Is Kiki a pet or a slave?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well you said owner, so I was hoping for a dog rather than a captive person.”
Yoongi couldn’t decide whether to laugh or run away very quickly.
“Kiki is a dog. My neighbour’s dog. Well, I guess, my old neighbour, as you are the new one.”
“Ah I see.” Not Hot Neighbour nodded in understanding. They both stood in silence for a loaded few seconds and then Not Hot Neighbour seemed to get a brilliant idea, judging by the look that lit up his face.
“We are having a housewarming party tonight, would you like to come by? Just a few people, all wearing masks, no fraternising obviously.” He seemed genuinely nice, but Yoongi was wary of breaking curfew and still disappointed from the fact that he wasn’t Hot Neighbour, so he thanked him for asking but declined.
“Don’t worry, I won’t make a noise complaint.” he joked and walked the long trek back up the stairs to his apartment.
Yoongi spent a happy couple of hours trying on his new clothes and taking pictures with the cat. He sent them to Suran for her opinion, and received a string of messages with many thumbs up in return.
The music started next door at around 8pm and carried on for a few hours. There was the faint sound of laughter and chatter, but nothing too disturbing. At 10 pm there was a knock at the door and Yoongi paused his movie to go and see who it was. Peering through the spy hole he could see the man he had met at the mailboxes earlier and someone to the side of him.
He opened his door a little way and looked out.
“Hello number 14! I realised after you left that I didn’t get your name! I am Taehyung and this is my best friend Jimin.”
“Hello again.” he smiled. He couldn’t fault him for his effort and politeness. They didn’t shake hands, because you know, pandemic, but they stood back far enough so they could remove their masks and waved cheerfully. They were both very handsome. Neither as piercing as the gaze of the long lost soulmate, but nonetheless pretty to look at when collecting the mail he supposed.
“I’m Yoongi. It is very nice to meet you.” he did a little wave back.
“There is one more of us, but he is just in the kitchen making some weird noodle and steak concoction for our dinner.” Taehyung explained
“Sounds delicious.” Yoongi mused. They grinned and the second of the two, Jimin, held out a bottle of soju.
“We know you couldn’t come over and we can’t really socialise, so this is an offering of neighbourly friendliness and a rain check until we can meet properly.” He put it on the floor by the door and stepped back so Yoongi could take it.
“Thank you, that’s really kind of you.” he blushed a little, unused to the attention. “Please let me know how the noodles turn out, I am always looking for new recipes.”
“We will!” Taehyung repolied. “Well have a good evening, we won’t be too loud too late.”
They were true to their word. The music was turned low enough so he could no longer hear it by 11pm and he went to bed smiling that night.
The next day, when he left his apartment to check his mailbox, there was a little food box left on the doorstep with a sticky note on the lid.
Chapaguri a la JK
Love Tae, Mini and JK @16”
Smiling shyly, he picked it up and lifted the lid to have a sniff. It smelled delicious. He put it straight in the fridge to have for lunch.
It tasted delicious. He scoffed the whole lot in his lunch break and then spent the first 10 minutes of his afternoon call with his team telling them about it.
“We didn’t realise you were on such good terms with your neighbours!” teased his manager, “Are they as handsome as they are good cooks?”
“I don’t know what the chef looks like. But his two housemates are very pretty. A bit young for me, but I won’t hold that against them.” he laughed. After making it clear he would not be a creep and take secret pictures to show the team, no matter what they bribed him with, they moved on and it was forgotten.
Later that evening, he decided to bake some cookies. Yoongi had taken up baking after finding out he was sensitive to gluten and not being able to find any cakes or biscuits that were nice enough to replace the ones he could no longer eat. He was really good at it and had mastered a variety of recipes in the last few years. As he weighed out the ingredients, he had a moment of rarely seen bravery and decided to make a batch for the boys next door.
It was just to say thank you for the soju and the food he told Maude, who looked at him with her usual lack of interest.
An hour later, wearing his new cream silk blouse and hair glossy like a raven’s wing, he packed up the cooled cookies in the washed and dried food tub that the noodles had come in and knocked on number 16.
The door was opened by a person he assumed was the third housemate. He was tall, broad and had his hair tied up in a bun on top of his head. He was just wearing a vest and shorts and Yoongi wondered if he’d disturbed him in the middle of working out. He was wiping the sweat from his forehead with a towel as he opened the door.
Yoongi clutched the box in front of him like a visual clue for his appearance.
“Sorry to disturb you, I’m just bringing your box back. It was lovely thank you. I made you cookies, here.” and thrust out the box.
The third housemate dropped the towel and reached for the box at the same time as his face lifted and their eyes met.
Yoongi felt the tingles spread through him from the back of his neck, down his back and flushing his cheeks red.
“It’s you.” the man said.
“It’s me?” Yoongi asked. For some reason his heart was racing and he was getting flashbacks of piano music and rainfall.
There were footsteps behind him and he turned to see Taehyung and Jimin walking towards them from the elevator.
“Hey Yoongi ssi!” Taehyung called waving. He was clutching a bag that looked like it was full of takeaway, while Jimin’s carrier had the rattle of glass bottles.
“Hello. I just brought your box back” Yoongi explained again. “I made cookies.” He turned back to the door and saw that JK had disappeared.
“Oh, your friend must have taken them.”
“Well it’s really kind of you, thank you.” Jimin said politely. “Did you like the noodles?”
“Yes, delicious. Thanks.” he felt awkward now. He shuffled a bit and smoothed his blouse down nervously.
“That colour looks great on you.” Taehyung said seriously. “You should wear more of it.”
“Oh, thank you. Yeah, I am trying to get away from black all the time.”
“We keep trying to get Kookie to wear colour, but it seems like it's against his personal principles.The only thing he owns that’s not black is that scarf his grandmother knitted.”
“Oh JK, the third flat mate. You just met him I think.”
“Oh yes. You call him Kookie?”
“Short for Jungkook,” Jimin explained, “He prefers JK, thinks it makes him sound grown up, but he’ll always be our baby.”
There was a yell from inside the apartment.
“Not a baby!” a muffled voice came. “Thanks for the cookies, they are great.”
“Hey! Don’t eat them all!” Taehyung yelled back and rushed in through the front door. Jimin sighed heavily.
“Well, I should go make sure they don’t break anything, so…. Nice to see you. Bye.” and he walked in, waved at Yoongi and closed the door.
Yoongi went back into his own apartment, slightly breathless and still not really knowing how he felt about the new neighbours. Was Kookie the person from the shop? He didn't think they had the same eyes, but then the ringles. He couldn't explain it.
A week later, he got an alert that there was a courier downstairs with a parcel he needed from work. He ran down in his slippers, wearing the new linen trousers and white cotton tunic he had been wearing for his early morning meeting.
Despite the balmy temperature in his fourth floor flat, it was actually really cold and wet outside and the courier was holding the door open, letting a stiff wind in that made him shiver as he signed for the parcel.
He thanked the courier and looked at the delivery. It was a large box and quite heavy. He wasn’t sure how he was going to carry it. Another gust of wind blew and he looked at the door. It was JK from number 16 and another man she had never seen before. They both had long cats, scarves and masks on to protect against the harsh weather outside. Where JK was clad entirely in black except for a flash of deep blue around his neck, his companion had a long brown coat on and a sage green scarf.
JK spotted him, he was hard to miss. The parcel was almost as tall as him and he was shivering in a thin shirt and his slippers.
“Hi” he said quietly. Do you need help with that?”
Now, Yoongi was a strong independent man, who didn’t need no man to do things for him, except when it was an enormous box and he was a tiny freezing person at the bottom of four flights of stairs.
"Actually, that would be amazing, thank you." He admitted and gave silent thanks to the sky as the two men picked up the box and carried it up the stairs.
They waited for him to open his front door and then left it just inside, politely stepping back so he could go in and had room to close the door.
Yoongi thanked them and they asked if there was anything more they could help him with before retreating.
The second man hadn't introduced himself and JK hadn't told Yoongi who he was. He was intrigued. The mask had hidden most of his face, but his eyes were kind.
Days went by and Yoongi saw his neighbours on and off by the mailboxes and in the hallways. They would always wave hello, but he didn't get a moment to spend time for meaningful conversation.
Still, he wore his pretty blouses for meetings and made sure to put on a little makeup on days when he needed the extra confidence.
One day, after a few weeks, when spring was starting to show in the leaves and the blossoms, he had just settled at his desk to tackle a report when there was a knock at the door.
"Hi." It was Taehyung. He looked unusually happy for this time of the morning.
"So curfew was eased and we wanted to invite you for dinner tonight. "
"Why wait? We've been in isolation for months. Jimin is practically crawling up the walls and if Kookie doesn't get some fellow human interaction soon, he's going to turn into the Terminator."
"So this is purely for your benefit?"
"Absolutely, yes." He grinned.
Dinner was great. Each boy of number 16 had prepared a dish. Jk did his famous ramyun. Jimin made grilled meat and Taehyung served watermelon wrapped in jamon.
"It’s the only thing I know how to do!" he’d said, chomping down on the juicy cubes of fruit.
As Yoongi sat on the sofa with a glass of wine, the doorbell rang and soon after four more people came in.
Taehyung introduced them.
"My brothers, Jin and Joonie and our friends Hobi and Taemin."
Yoongi recognised Jin as the man who had helped JK carry his box up the stairs. He sat down next to Kookie on the floor and wrapped an arm around him, so he guessed there was some closeness there.
Jimin looked like a leopard prowling it's prey as he approached Taemin, so he averted his eyes, and the man called Hobi basically jumped Taehyung so that just left Joonie standing awkwardly in the room as his siblings devoured their significant others.
"Hello!" He said grinning at Yoongi, and popping some illegal looking dimples. "Can I interest you in a beverage?"
Yoongi held out his empty glass and Namjoon took it with one hand as he unwound his red scarf with the other. Their fingertips brushed at the glass passed between them.
This time, it wasn't tingles. It was like he'd dragged his feet across the carpet of a department store and built up a tonne of static.
"Oh!" Namjoon said. "It's you!"
"That's what Kookie said. Who am I? What do you mean?"
Namjoon took the glass, walked to the kitchen, filled it with wine and returned.
"I used to think that I would always be the single person in this room full of couples." He gestured at his brothers and friends.
"My grandmother told me there was a soulmate for everyone, but I didn't believe her. But a few months ago, I was in a bookstore and I saw this person who made my heart stutter. Even from a distance I could feel the pull towards them."
"Oh..." Yoongi gasped.
"My grandmother told me that when I met them, I would feel like I had been shocked by a live wire, that parts of my life that never made sense would suddenly be simple and easy."
"That day in the book shop. I saw you and it felt like my monochrome world had been filled with colour. After I left, I told JK all about you. About the boy I'd seen who made my vision polarise. Obviously I talked so much, he recognised you on sight."
He reached out his hands. One with the glass and the other open, for Yoongi’s hand to take.
"I don't believe in magic, but I believe in my grandmother. " he smiled gently and Yoongi couldn't have stopped his hand if he'd wanted to.
"Hello. I'm Yoongi." He said. "I think we met before."