When Mark returns to his second period biology class after a week of absences due to swim meet after swim meet, he’s met with a new assigned seating arrangement. The athlete can’t exactly say that he’s pleasantly surprised. Surprised? Absolutely. Pleasantly? Hell no.
It’s no secret among his classmates that Mark Lee keeps to his damn self. Despite his higher ranks on the school’s chain of ‘popularity’ (God bless athletics!), the boy finds solace in the opposite of what this entails: solitude and calm , both of which he figures he’ll have to say goodbye to for the remaining month and a half of the semester.
This realization is made upon entering the brightly lit second floor classroom. Mr Moon, his class’ student teacher, waves at Mark with the hand that isn’t clasped around a thick stack of papers.
“Good morning, Mark,” the young man says in greeting with a nod. “Congratulations on your times, buddy.”
Mark flushes at the praise from his place by the lab station to his right. Beneath the curious glances of his peers, said praise feels more like pure and unadulterated scrutiny, Mark thinks as he quickly scratches the back of his neck.
“It’s no big deal, really,” he lies, his words slipping easily off his tongue. In reality, his times had been good enough to qualify for a huge provincial meet in early February. “But thanks.”
“Always so humble,” the teacher laughs, shaking his head. He holds out his empty hand once more, directing Mark towards the cluster of desks before him. “Please, take a seat.”
Mark scans the classroom for a moment, taking into account the drastic change in scenery. His old and favourite seat in the back of the class is now occupied by one very unimpressed Yeri Kim. Mark can’t help the sympathetic look that crosses his face. Yeri is well known for always sitting in the front row of every one of her classes since grade 1.
It’s a shame, really.
Mark coughs, clearing his throat. “Uh, where?”
He can feels the tips of his ears redden.
“Beside Mister Lee-Otero.”
While Mark’s smile falters, Mr Taeil Moon’s smile is forced and wry, all at once. Mark can hear a few snickers here and there when his eyes land on the notorious student. He frowns.
And it’s not that Mark dislikes the guy per se; it just so happens to be that the younger male is and always will be #1 Shit Disturber Extraordinaire-- the kind that unapologetically robbed Mark of the peace and tranquility he so often longed for.
Donghyuck flashes him a grin and Mark nods, slowly -- and painfully -- drifting towards his unfortunate new seat. The swimmer drops his bag onto the floor next to his new chair and sits. He can feel Donghyuck’s eyes on him as he readies his supplies for the period, his body unintentionally tensing.
“What?” Mark huffs, surprising himself with his forward outburst of annoyance.
Though Donghyuck doesn’t seem to mind. At all. He scoots his chair closer to Mark’s and the lazy smirk on his lips grows.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced, superstar,” Donghyuck shrugs, toying with the mechanical pencil in his hands. He holds out his empty hand. “I’m D--”
“I know.” Mark interjects, though takes the calloused hand into his own nonetheless. “We’ve had classes together before.”
“True," he agrees, clicking his pencil. “But this is also out first time officially meeting, Superstar.”
“Mark,” the swimmer corrects quietly. “Please, just Mark.”
Donghyuck snorts. “Whatever you say,” he assures, bowing slightly. “Superstar.”
Mark involuntarily clenches his fist.
Mark swears to keep his interactions between he and his neighbours to an absolute minimum. He starts arriving to class at the very last second possible and leaves the room a fraction of a second before the lunch bell goes off, and the rest of the class has the time to react.
And if Donghyuck senses Mark’s hostility, he doesn’t show it. His demeanour remains chummy and all too overbearing. Mark can’t handle it. The younger male doesn’t hesitate to fill him in on every detail of his life. And boy, does he lack a filter.
“So, I was taking a shit, right?” Donghyuck starts on a particularly dreary Monday morning. A morning Mark really isn’t feeling, choosing to sulk to Michael Bublé’s sultry crooning rather than facing the day head on. Donghyuck completely disregards the earbuds in his ears.
And the swimmer is not having it. He can’t decide if his rage is heightened by the foot of snow blanketing the streets of Ottawa that morning, or the seemingly overcast skies. But he has no time for self-reflection. Not with a filterless Donghyuck Lee waxing poetic about his adventures as a young lactose intolerant at his side.
“Okay,” Mark snaps, tugging out an earbud so that his right ear can no longer hear Bublé’s vocals. Donghyuck freezes in his seat, amusement dancing on his features. Mark wants to scream. “Enough .”
He can hear the conversations around him falter.
“What’s wrong, Superstar?” Donghyuck smiles, feigning concern. “You seem a little… tense today.”
Mark’s eyes helplessly widen in response, the words in his head, dying at the tip of his drying tongue. The silence around him gradually turns to odd giggle here and there.
“Alright, alright.” Mr Moon laughs as he enters the classroom. “Settle down, kids.”
It’s then that Mark attempts to send his teacher a telepathic cry for help, to no avail. The teacher only claps his hands together and continues to speak.
“Two words,” he starts, his smile all too bright for a shitty morning. “Punnett Squares.”
“Ooh,” Donghyuck muses, to which Mr Moon clicks his tongue.
“As I was trying to say,” he continues, his eyes narrowing on Donghyuck’s indifferent person. “To conclude the genetics unit. You will all be working on a project to be handed in on the last day before the Christmas break.”
At this, the class lets out a collective set of of groans, Donghyuck’s being the louder and most obnoxious of the cacophony.
“Hey,” the teacher says, mocking the students. “I’m not done yet! To shake things up, I also decided to do our very own Secret Santa exchange. Consider it a motivator.”
Mark’s ears perk up at the mention of a gift exchange. He always has been a sucker for festivities. Donghyuck, however, is not sold.
“Boo!” he jeers, raising a fist into the air. Mark can only sink lower into his seat, the secondhand embarrassment tightening his chest. “Give us something good, Moonie.”
The teacher blinks at the use of his tragic nickname and shrugs. “Bonus points to whoever shows up on that day.”
“Now, that’s what I’m talking about, sir.” Donghyuck nods, clapping slowly and dramatically for added effect. Mark glares at him. “Don’t look at me like that, Superstar. Everyone loves bonus points.”
Mark splutters stupidly. “I--”
“You can thank me later,” Donghyuck simply says. He then winks , and Mark nearly has to physically restrain himself from letting out a sound of repulsion.
Donghyuck Lee is greasy, too. What a surprise.
“So,” Taeil Moon proceeds, turning to the blackboard with a piece of blue chalk in hand. “With your desk neighbour, you’ll be choosing--”
“Wait a minute.” Mark blurts, unable to catch himself before the words leave his lips. All of his classmates, Donghyuck included, turn to him.
“Is there a problem, Mister Lee?” the student teacher questions, knowing full well what the problem is.
“Well?” Mark begins, glancing at his neighbour. Donghyuck mimics tipping a fedora. “Yes .”
Taeil sighs, and Mark can easily read the guilt on his face. “I’m afraid that is something the two of you will have to overcome, Mark.”
Great, Mark thinks, slumping back into his seat, arms crossed.
He doesn’t see the brief look of disdain that crosses Donghyuck’s face for a moment at the blatant display of aversion to his very being, for it is gone almost as soon as it had appeared.
The short version of the story is that Mark all but forgets about the project. The long version? Mark becomes too immersed in avoiding Donghyuck, that the assignment slips his mind altogether.
It gets to the point where Donghyuck confronts him in the lunchroom a few days after the unfortunate task was declared.
“Where do you think you're going, Superstar?” Donghyuck laughs, stepping in front of Mark, blocking the path towards the library that had been void of any obstacle less than a second before.
“Away from you?” the swimmer tries, his voice sounding less than sure. “And, for the last time, it's Mark.”
“That's hardly important,” Donghyuck shakes his head and sets off. The look he casts over his shoulder is enough to tell Mark that he expects him to follow, which he does. “We have more pressing issues, right now… Don't you think?”
Mark blinks, staring longingly at the lunchroom. “As in…?”
“As in the fact that I really need to get my shit together in Bio and I can't do that when my partner wants me dead.”
Donghyuck says this with an air of nonchalance once he nears the library’s entrance. He holds the door open for Mark.
Chivalry lives on, Mark thinks, stepping into the quiet room.
Donghyuck takes the lead once they're both inside the place of study. He leads Mark to a dimly lit corner of the library and takes a seat, propping his legs up on the table.
Mark looks down at him.
“I don't want you dead,” he admits quietly, running his fingers along the table’s worn surface.
Donghyuck snorts. “Those daggers say otherwise,” he adds, referring to Mark’s justified glaring activities.
“Okay, fine.” Mark sighs, crossing his arms. “You're just a little extra, and it gets on my nerves a little.”
“Well,” Donghyuck smirks. “I'm an extrovert.”
“The bane of my introverted existence,” Mark mutters, to which Donghyuck guffaws. The outburst is loud enough that the librarian makes an appearance at their table to reprimand the two.
“Need I remind the two of you that this is a library?”
“I'm sorry.” Mark apologizes quickly on their behalf, and the woman walks away. He turns to Donghyuck, eyes wide, and takes a seat.
“Don't look so spooked,” Donghyuck coos, leaning forward. “She's harmless.”
“Whatever,” Mark pouts, leaning back in his chair. “So what did you want to do? For the project.”
“Right,” Donghyuck exclaims, slapping the table. “I've been tossing a few ideas around. You could come over sometime and I can show you.” Donghyuck explains, before adding a quick, “If you want, that is.”
Mark ponders over the idea. It can't hurt, he decides. It's just a stupid grade 11 biology project.
“Sure.” he shrugs, crossing his arms.
“Great,” Donghyuck smiles. “Do you want me to text you the address? You can stop by after practice.”
Mark cocks his head.
“I'm not a stalker, my cousin Jaemin’s on the team, Superstar.” Donghyuck chuckles, pulling his phone out of the pocket of his jeans.
“Oh,” is all Mark says. Though he doesn't quite understand how someone tolerable like Jaemin could even be related to the typhoon that is Donghyuck Lee. “But I'm not going to practice today. Coach wants me to rest my shoulder. I can come on your bus?”
Donghyuck lets out a small, breathy laugh. “I walk home.”
“The more you know.” Mark hums in surprise.
Donghyuck smiles and it's a lot less lowkey than his usual smirk. Mark figures he likes this Donghyuck better.
When Mark says he hates winters in Ottawa, he means it.
Say it with your chest, his neighbour slash best friend Jaehyun would say. So, Mark does just that.
“I fucking hate winter,” he snaps, stepping over a patch of ice on the sidewalk. “But I hate Ottawa during winter a whole lot fucking more.”
“Who would've known that the Oh-So-Quiet Mark Lee could swear like a sailor,” Donghyuck teases, his movement calculated and effortless. Mark clicks his tongue in response. “But try doing this every day.”
Mark groans, a mixture of sympathy and agony. “This is horrible.”
“We'd be there by now if they'd plow the sidewalk on time,” Donghyuck huffs, though his usual playful tone is still present.
“Where is there?”
“The greyish house at the end of the cul de sac,” Donghyuck says, pointing towards the end of the road. “Do you see it?”
Mark doesn't need to squint to see it. Not when it's easily the largest house on the strip of road.
“It's kind of hard not to,” Mark breathes, his breath visible in the winter air. “I didn't know you were loaded.”
“Shut up,” Donghyuck laughs, nudging Mark’s side. The contact leaves a pit of warmth in Mark’s tummy, not that it's a big deal or anything. “I mean, my dad owns a dental practice and my mom teaches at Carleton. No big deal.”
“No big deal, ” Mark mirrors, eyeing the house. “It's bigger than my entire complex.”
Donghyuck snorts. “And I'm the extra one.”
“I guess you're rubbing off on me,” Mark shrugs and sets off quietly.
Donghyuck falters for a moment, his boots no longer crunching in the snow in sync with Mark’s.
“I guess,” he mutters, following Mark.
“Luis, I'm home!”
Mark is unlacing his Timberlands in the foyer while Donghyuck has already dodged all winter wear and walks deeper into the heated house.
“Who the fuck is Luis?” Mark wonders aloud, pulling off his last boot. He straightens and follows Donghyuck into the spacious kitchen.
Donghyuck doesn't answer, too invested in the contents of his fridge to care. He resurfaces with two tubes of squeezable apple sauce fit for a child.
“You like these?” Donghyuck asks, offering one.
“Aren't these for little kids?” Mark questions, his eyes falling on the image of a toddler beneath the brand’s logo.
“They're for my sister, but she won't mind.”
Donghyuck nods, screwing open his snack. “Her name’s Mia. She's gonna be up in, like, five minutes. You can see her then.”
“How many siblings do you have?” Mark asks, genuinely curious. As an only child, the closest thing he's ever gotten to having a sibling is Jaehyun, of all people.
“Well," Donghyuck starts, mouth hovering over the fruit snack's spout. "There's Mia and there's another one on the way.”
“Oh," Mark grimaces. He can't imagine having to live with multiple kids under the age of four. "Really?”
“I know, right?" Donghyuck chuckles, shaking his head. "I literally died a little on the inside when I found out last week.”
“Damn," Mark hisses, his tone teasing. "I can't believe your parents bang with you in the house.”
“Right? I'm scarred.”
The two boys eat in silence, with only the fridge’s low humming to keep them company.
“Damien, is that you?”
Mark nearly jumps at the sudden voice. And while Mark isn't exactly proficient in the language, he knows enough to tell it's Spanish .
“Yeah,” Donghyuck calls, pausing his slurping. “I have a friend over, by the way.”
It's then that a tall man enters the room. He is handsome, Mark can't lie, and his skin is tanned despite the sub zero weather conditions in Ottawa.
“Hi,” Mark smiles, waving awkwardly. “I'm Mark.”
The man nods, seemingly amused. “Hello Mark, I'm Luis. Damien’s dad.”
“We're gonna work on our Bio project in the basement.”
“Oh, I was going to ask you to watch your sister for a bit. I just got paged for an emergency tooth extraction.”
“That's fine.” Donghyuck shrugs. “We were gonna need her anyways.”
“Great. I'll see you before dinner, kid.” Luis smiles, pulling on his winter coat. He turns to Mark. “It was nice meeting you.”
“You as well.”
The older man nods, his eyes smiling.
“See ya, pops,” Donghyuck says, urging his father to leave, out of what seems to be embarrassment.
“Yeah, yeah,” he rolls his eyes before adding a short but sweet, “Love you too.”
His father exits the room and the house altogether, leaving the boys alone once more.
“So…” Mark starts. “Damien?”
Donghyuck laughs. “My English name. But since there's literally three other Damiens in our grade, I just use Donghyuck Lee. It's easier. But on paper, I'm Damien Donghyuck Lee-Otero.”
“That's a mouthful.”
“Tell me about it.”
“For what it's worth,” Mark says quietly, poking at his empty tube of strawberry flavoured apple sauce. “I like Donghyuck better.”
“Don't worry about it.”
A cry pierces through the air at once. For the second time that day, Mark finds himself frozen with shock.
“And that would be Mia,” Donghyuck sighs, setting his empty tube on the counter. Mark straightens. “Come, I’ll introduce you.”
Mark learns that Mia is in fact Donghyuck’s half-sister.
“That’s why we look nothing alike,” he reveals, drawing a Punnett Square on a sheet of lined paper.
Mark glances at the two year old as she plays with a toy car without a care in the world. Her brown hair is pulled back into two pigtails that bounce with every one of her movements. And while she physically shares little to no resemblance with her older brother, her beagle-like nature is the same. The toddler can’t seem to sit still.
“I guess,” Mark shrugs, turning back to Donghyuck. “You guys act the same, though.”
“I’m just being honest,” Mark laughs, fingers tapping along his thigh. He focuses on Donghyuck’s now complete Punnett Square table. “What was your idea anyway?”
“Well since we’re supposed to be finding a common case of recessive and dominant genes, I thought we could maybe use Mia as an example.”
“So we’re doing a project on your baby sister?”
“Why not?” Donghyuck starts. He points to his sister. “Her eyes, for example. She has double eyelids, because monolids are basically recessive. And instead of her eyes being dark brown in colour, they’re a lighter shade. And that’s because of Luis’ side of the family and the fact that my mom most likely has some South Asian ancestry. Does that make sense?”
Mark blinks. “You’re smart?”
He doesn’t mean to sound so awestruck, but the notion is hard to believe, considering the fact that Donghyuck never seemed to be doing any work at all in class. Ever.
“I didn’t make it to grade 11 on quick wits alone, Superstar,” Donghyuck smirks, propping his feet up on the table. He turns to Mark. “So is this good? Any protests?”
“Nah,” Mark admits. “Sounds like a pretty solid idea.”
Seeing Donghyuck after school becomes a sort of a routine for Mark. On most afternoons, the two pass the time working away on their assignment, researching phenotypes originating from all over Asia as well as South America. Though it becomes all too common that by the 2 hour mark, both boys are on their backs, talking quietly amongst themselves about everything and nothing -- biology forgotten.
It’s a change in pace, Mark notes, being with Donghyuck. Being around the younger boy feels different and more real than when he’s around his other friends. Not that he doesn’t like Jaehyun and Yuta, or anything. It’s just that Donghyuck is different. A good different.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Donghyuck snorts, the sound resonating throughout the community centre’s empty foyer. The two are waiting to get picked up by Mark’s mom.
Mark flushes, realizing that he’d worded his thought out loud.
“I… I don’t know,” he admits, shrugging. The gesture sends droplet of water that cling to Mark’s hair flying. “You’re just so weird.”
“I’ve been told it’s my charm.”
And while Mark might agree, he doesn’t let Donghyuck live.
“Who lied to you?” Mark teases, hands clasped around an empty bottle of yellow Gatorade.
“Okay, rude.” Donghyuck gasps, feigning hurt. Mark rolls his eyes. “My drama director says I’m a gem, okay? And she’s been on Broadway, so I think she knows what she’s saying…”
“Okay,” Mark giggles, resting his chin on the bottle’s lid. “I’ll take her word for it.”
Donghyuck smirks, leaning forward. “What about you, Superstar?”
Mark cocks his head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“Apart from being the next Ryan Cochrane,” Donghyuck explains, simultaneously boosting Mark’s ego. “What’s your charm?”
The truth is, Mark doesn’t even know what his charm is. It’s not like he goes around asking his friends.
“I don’t know…” he realizes out loud, sounding a little crestfallen.
“You know what I think?” Donghyuck smiles, and it’s similar to the smile he’d given Mark in the library on the first day they’d hung out after school.
“What’s that?” Mark asks, too shakily for his own liking.
“I think,” Donghyuck starts, looking up at the ceiling. “The fact that you’re awkward as shit makes you all the more interesting.”
He finishes and looks down. Mark swallows thickly.
“Oh…” is all that he manages to let out.
“See?” Donghyuck laughs, poking Mark’s bicep. The contact feels so hot that Mark swears it must have left a trace. “You do this thing when you’re at a loss for words. Kinda like when Mr Moon doesn’t know how to handle a situation, only it’s the Mark Lee Edition.”
Mark only chuckles in response, not entirely sure of how he’s meant to react.
“It’s cute.” Donghyuck adds, and Mark’s breath hitches.
He doesn’t know if it’s because of Donghyuck’s nonchalant comment, or the fact that the room around him seems to drop in temperature. Or maybe he does know and is too scared to admit it.
Either way, Donghyuck’s voice follows Mark like a looming shadow of dread. It follows him all the way home, after they’ve dropped Donghyuck off. It follows him as he waits for his parents to fall asleep and turns on his laptop. And it follows him as Mark types a question into his personalized search engine.
How to know if you like someone?
“Mark, I know you like him.”
If Jaehyun wasn’t so tall and unnecessarily strong, Mark is sure he would’ve told him to square up right then and there. So he settles for a very pointed glare in his friend’s direction. Jaehyun rolls his eyes.
“Oh come on,” the senior groans, smacking a large hand across Mark’s back. The sound echoes throughout the study room and Mark winces. “Don’t look so scandalized. I’ve literally known you since you were an infant. I, of all people, should know that you like dudes.”
Mark can’t help but look over his shoulder out of fear.
“Okay, maybe don’t be so loud?” he huffs, going back to his English homework.
“It’s just us in here, don’t worry,” Jaehyun reassures with a small laugh. “But Yuta knows too.”
Mark blinks. “You’re kidding.”
“You’re not exactly subtle,” Jaehyun tries with a small smile and Mark sighs.
“Okay,” he announces, his grip around his pencil tightening. “So what if I like him?”
Mark knows his tone is defensive, but it’s not like he can help it either.
Jaehyun shrugs. “It’s not a bad thing that you do,” he offers, leaning forward to rest his head on the table’s surface.
“I know that,” Mark agrees, because he really does. “But…”
“But?” Jaehyun prompts, gesturing for him to continue.
Mark sighs in defeat. “It’s not like he’s into boys like that.”
Sure, Donghyuck might have deemed his mannerisms cute, but that doesn’t mean anything, right?
“Isn’t he into plays and shit, though?” Jaehyun wonders, earning a bitter scoff from Mark’s part.
“Just because he’s into theatre doesn’t make him gay, moron,” he rants angrily. “Plus, I’ve seen his history tab. He has a thing for big boobs.”
Jaehyun snorts. “Who doesn’t?”
Mark points to himself. “Uh, me?”
“Touché,” Jaehyun smiles, nodding. “But, Mark?”
“Ever heard of bisexuality?”
“I’m not an idiot,” Mark groans, closing his eyes. When he opens them, Jaehyun has relocated into the empty seat next to Mark.
“Shut up,” Jaehyun quips, switching into a heavily accented Korean. “Let your hyung tell you all about this wonderful thing.”
Within the next hour, Mark learns a whole lot more from Jaehyun than he would have liked. Though no matter how uncomfortable the conversation may have been, he understands its necessity. Plus, he figures their friendship is stronger than ever now that he knows Jaehyun loves him unconditionally. It’s sappy, but he’s grateful.
The next day, when Mark draws Donghyuck’s name out of a hat for their Biology class’ Secret Santa gift exchange, he lets out a relieved sigh, thanking God for… He doesn’t exactly know.
“Who’d you get?” Donghyuck asks him that afternoon from his place at the foot of Mark’s bed. The two are snowed in and the weather doesn’t seem to be letting up, but Mark can’t complain. “I got Yeri Kim, but I don’t know what to get her.”
“It can’t be that hard to pick a gift…”
“Yeah, but she’s hot,” Donghyuck relays easily and Mark nearly chokes on his mug of hot chocolate. “I wouldn’t want to get her something completely horrible to the point where she deems me too unworthy to even spit at my feet, Superstar.”
“That’s…” he falters, wiping the hot fluid from the corner of his mouth. “Descriptive.”
“Yeah, yeah… But don’t change the subject.” Donghyuck smirks, crawling onto Mark’s bed. “Who’d you get?”
Mark swallows, his breathing slightly more laboured than he’d like. “Can’t say?”
Donghyuck clicks his tongue, but doesn’t move from his place between Mark’s spread legs. The proximity doesn’t seem to have the same effect on him and Mark finds himself wanting to scream.
“You’re a dick, you know that?” Donghyuck smiles, shaking his head.
Mark sets down his mug on his nightstand, his eyes not once leaving Donghyuck’s. He shrugs.
“At least I’m cute.”
And Donghyuck laughs . It’s so loud and so dramatic that Mark is sure Jaehyun can hear him from his adjacent bedroom. Mark almost feels bad. Almost.
Eventually Donghyuck recovers, wiping tears from his eyes as he says, “Well, you’re not lying, Superstar.”
Mark can feel his mouth drying, and his tongue no longer sits comfortably inside. And while Mark looks like an absolute nervous wreck , Donghyuck seems more put together. He sits back on his legs, the ghost of a smile playing on his pink lips.
Mark can’t stop staring at his lips.
“Yeogi buteora, modu moyeora… WE GON PARTY LIKE --”
“Ah,” Donghyuck hisses, pulling his phone out of the pocket of his Roots sweatpants. “That would be my mother.”
Mark blushes, clearing his throat as Donghyuck hops off the bed.
“Hey, mom,” Donghyuck says into the receiver, giving Mark a sympathetic look. Mark has to admit, Donghyuck’s Korean is better than his will ever be. “How’s it going?”
“Mark?” his own mother calls from their front door.
He sighs and steps off his bed. He walks out of his room, leaving Donghyuck alone to speak with his own mother.
“Yeah?” he asks, stepping into the living room, where his mom is waiting for him. Her hair is damp and askew. Her tan overcoat is almost just as soaked.
“The weather out there is nothing like I’ve ever seen,” she explains, pulling off her coat. “Your father’s stranded in Quebec until things die down out there.”
Mark pouts. “Are you serious? Is he okay?”
“Yes, he’s fine. They’re letting him stay at a hotel.” she sighs, tying her hair back with a black elastic. “But, there’s no way in hell Donghyuck is going home tonight. Not in those conditions.”
“Now, I’m going to check on Jaehyun,” she says, looking like a woman on a mission.
For a split seconds, he thinks of how Jaehyun is holding up what with his parents in Korea for the week. If he knows anything about the elder, it’s that he’s probably smoking his second bowl of the evening in his perpetually foggy room. Mark makes a mental note to shoot the guy a quick text before his mother shows up and catches him in the illicit act.
“I’ll, uh, let Donghyuck know that he’s staying over…” he says, his thumb pointing to his room. His mother nods and steps into the hallway.
Mark shuffles towards his bedroom, phone in hand.
Dec 13 2016, 18:24
My mom’s coming over rn
Put ur maryjane away druggie <3
Dec 13 2016, 18:25
ur a real one mark <3
When Mark reaches his room, Donghyuck is lounging on Mark’s bed, scrolling through his own phone.
“Good news,” Mark sings, gaining the younger’s attention. “You’re sleeping over tonight.”
“I figured,” Donghyuck smiles, stretching out his limbs. “My mom was going off about how Chanmi-nuna better let me stay the night.”
“It’s a good thing Chanmi-nuna was pretty adamant on you staying,” Mark laughs, sitting on his bed. “Sometimes it’s like she likes you better than me.”
“Now you know how I feel,” Donghyuck snorts, scooting over to give Mark more space on the double bed. “Luis doesn’t shut up about how polite you are, it’s sickening.”
“Ah, Luis,” Mark sighs, his head falling on his pillow. “What a man.”
Donghyuck pulls that very pillow from under Mark’s head and hits him with it.
“Stop quoting Salt-N-Pepa and help me online shop for Yeri’s present,” he orders, turning on Mark’s laptop. “Your input will be needed, Superstar.”
“Fine,” Mark laughs, shoving Donghyuck once more before settling down.
It’s pathetic, but Mark thinks he sleeps better with Donghyuck at his side.
Mark ends up getting Donghyuck two tickets to the Elf the Musical, the show their local theatre is taking on for the Christmas season. It’s not a difficult task to do either, considering the fact that the younger makes it a habit of ‘dropping hints’ every day before class starts.
“Damn,” he sighs dramatically, to which Taeil Moon rolls his eyes. “You know what’d hit the spot? Tickets to Elf the motherfu--”
“Damien,” the teacher interjects. Both Damiens in the classroom raised ceased their movements and pointed to themselves. “Donghyuck.”
While the other Damien is relieved, Donghyuck can’t say the same, Mark notes, as the boy looks down at his clasped hands.
“Sorry, Moonie,” he chuckles nervously. “The Christmas Spirit just got to me, you know?”
The teacher only huffs and Mark snorts.
Mark realizes he’s a goner on the day of the school’s Christmas concert.
He doesn’t know what it is about Donghyuck’s voice that makes him so weak in the knees, but his rendition of Michael Bublé’s version of All I Want For Christmas Is You leaves Mark with a warmth at the pit of his tummy that he can only identify as fondness. His cheering is the loudest in the crowd -- something he doesn’t need a laughing Jaehyun to tell him.
“Ignore him,” Yuta says over Donghyuck’s fading standing ovation. “I’d be going ham too.”
Mark smiles at him before promptly sticking his tongue out at Jaehyun who has yet to recover from his laughing fit.
And Mark doesn’t wait to see its end, instead choosing to sneak into the green room where the day’s performers wait for their call times.
It’s as he waits that Mark finally gets the time to reflect on his crush. He comes to the conclusion that his feelings are too strong to be describes by a word so simple. Not that it’s full blown love. It’s too early for that, and Mark knows it. But, the thing is, he wouldn’t mind loving Donghyuck.
He watches Donghyuck step into the room. There’s a thin layer of sweat over his brow that, weirdly enough, gives him a glow comparable to sunlight. Though Mark doesn’t get the time to revel in his light.
“Why the long face?” Mark questions, genuinely concerned.
Donghyuck’s eyes zero in on Mark from where he sits at the piano. He looks put off, a version of Donghyuck Mark has yet to meet. He doesn’t like it.
“Hey Superstar,” he forces a smile, taking a seat next to him. “I’m assuming you’re here to shower me in praise.”
“I guess I’m not the only superstar, now,” Mark says carefully, shifting slightly so that he can see Donghyuck properly. From this vantage point, he can clearly see every detail of the younger boy’s face. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know how to put this…” he laughs, the sound mechanical and so unlike him.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to--”
“Basically,” Donghyuck cuts in, his tone urgent. “Someone just made advances on my fine self…”
“Oh,” Mark wheezes, not quite knowing what to do with the information.
Donghyuck glances at him for brief second. “A boy.”
Mark’s eyes widen. “Oh?”
Donghyuck nods slowly, chewing on his lower lip.
“My ex,” he adds, to which Mark practically chokes on air.
“What? ” he coughs, gripping onto the closed piano for support. Donghyuck’s face darkens. “You’re…”
“No, Mark.” Donghyuck sighs, shaking his head. Mark can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. “Me dating a boy doesn’t make me gay.”
Mark lets out a sound of protest.
“That doesn’t even make sense!” he blurts.
“It does when I like gay porn just as much as I like the hetero stuff,” Donghyuck explains casually. “I’m bi.”
Mark’s mind flashes back to his detailed conversation with Jaehyun on All Things Bi. “Oh…”
“You’re full of ohs today,” Donghyuck laughs, a bit more relaxed than he’d been earlier. “I seriously thought you knew.”
Mark shakes his head. “This is news to me.”
“That’s awkward,” Donghyuck hisses, scratching the back of his neck. Mark can see the tips of his ears redden as he speaks. He can’t judge though, considering his ears are just about the same.
“You think?” he laughs nervously, looking down at his hands.
“The more you know, I guess,” Donghyuck shrugs, looking up at the ceiling. “You’re not mad, are you?”
“No, no,” Mark says quickly. That’d be hypocritical of me , he wants to say, but keeps his mouth zipped tight. “I’m not. You’re good.”
“Thanks, Superstar,” Donghyuck smirks, nudging Mark’s side. “I’m... really glad we’re friends.”
Mark smiles shyly. “Me too.”
“Now tell me all about how amazing I was,” Donghyuck continues, putting his arm around Mark’s athletic frame. “I could hear your voice out of all those people, so don’t even try telling me I sucked ass.”
And Mark groans.
On the last day of classes before the break, Mark and Donghyuck hand in the completed version of their genetics assignment. Taeil Moon gives them nothing but praise on the intricacy and evident dedication put into the project. Donghyuck credits this ‘win’ to his sister’s patience, but Mark knows better. He knows they couldn’t have done it without Donghyuck’s intelligence. He had been the one to pitch the idea, after all.
“I’m telling you,” Donghyuck says, mouth full of red velvet cupcake. Mark doesn’t understand how someone so lactose intolerant could bear stuffing his mouth with dairy so frequently. “Blended families come in clutch.”
“Oh my God…” Mark laughs, shaking his head.
“I’d like to thank the King of Argentina, Luis Otero Velez,” Donghyuck announces to the entire class, as he stands on a chair. “My step-dad, for being the greatest of all time. This," he gestures, flicking his hand. "Is me dropping my invisible mic.”
“Are you done?” their teacher seems to have become immune to Donghyuck’s outbursts of nonsense.
“Alright,” Mr Moon exclaims, clapping his hands. “It’s time for the gift exchange. Please, do so in an appropriate manner.”
Donghyuck immediately stands, and all but sprints to Yeri. He places the carefully wrapped gift -- a makeup brush from Sephora -- onto her desk with a smile.
“Consider yourself Secret Santa’d,” he says, and much to everyone’s surprise, she cracks a small smile.
“Merry Christmas, kid,” she laughs as she stands. She gives him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. Mark can’t help feeling just a tad bit jealous.
He’s momentarily distracted by the bag of Swedish Fish that Chan Lee drops onto his desk. Mark lets out a short laugh at the reference to an inside joke shared among members of the swim team.
Chan winks jokingly, his thumbs up. “Just keep swimming, Markiepoo.”
Mark shakes his head as Chan walks back to his desk, brushing past a disgusted Donghyuck.
“Markiepoo?” Donghyuck snorts upon his return. “I like Superstar better. It’s more fitting.”
Me too, Mark thinks with a small smile.
“Before I forget,” he says, pulling the tickets out his hoodie. He sets them on Donghyuck’s desk. “Consider yourself Secret Santa’d.”
Donghyuck looks down at the tickets, his eyes widening.
“I think I’m in love with you,” Donghyuck declares, peeling them off the desk. Mark flushes. “You’re coming with me, by the way.”
“I’ll have my driver pick you up at six forty-five sharp,” Donghyuck beams, holding the tickets to his chest. “And by driver, I mean my father. Be ready by then, Superstar, because you’re about to have the night of your life.”
Mark smiles. “Can’t wait.”
Mark isn’t a theatre connoisseur, or anything, but he figures the show is alright. The light in Donghyuck’s eyes as he sings along to his favourite tunes, however, is far more captivating.
The night before Donghyuck leaves for Korea, the two boys are lying on the floor in Donghyuck’s living room. Mark can hear Mia babble in the background, but apart from that, the room is silent.
Mark slowly turns his head to face Donghyuck, whose eyes still trace the dome shaped ceiling.
“Donghyuck?” he asks, breaking the comfortable silence.
“What’s up, Superstar?”
“I’m gonna miss you.”
“I’ll only be gone for a week,” Donghyuck laughs. The sound is music to Mark’s ears. “But I’ll miss you too. Every time I eat my grandma’s bulgogi, I’ll be thinking of you.”
Mark scoffs. “Way to kill the sappy moment, dude.”
“I mean it though,” Donghyuck says, his tone serious for once. “I don’t say it enough but I’m really glad Mr Moon put us together for that project.”
“You and I, Superstar,” Donghyuck hums, rolling over onto his side. Mark does the same, so that they are face to face. “We make quite a pair.”
Mark doesn’t think it’s possible for him to agree more.
When Mark isn’t at swimming practice, or Christmas shopping with his parents, his Donghyuck-less days are spent moping around the apartment. Or Jaehyun’s. He isn't picky.
“You’re pathetic,” Jaehyun concludes sadly. “Like, you’re actually a mess.”
The groan Mark lets out is a tortured one. “Tell me something I don’t know, Jae.”
“The square root of sixty-nine is eight--”
“I didn’t mean it literally, you asshole!” Mark snaps, kicking Jaehyun in the shin.
In short, Mark could really use new friends. And he misses Donghyuck.
December 25 2016, 10:30
From: superstar <3
Merry christmas dude
I love you
December 25, 10:54
To: superstar <3
LOL same dude
December 25 2016, 11:04
From: superstar <3
I like literally love you??
U know what? Ignore this
December 25 2016, 11:15
To: superstar <3
Mark doesn't really know what it is that leads him to confessing. Whatever it is, he curses it, wishes it dead.
He doesn't speak to Donghyuck after that. He continues to ignore the younger even after his return from Korea. And as hard as it is, he learns to cope. After all, it is a better alternative. Mark would rather accept his fate beforehand than actually having to hear Donghyuck reject him.
So, he isolates himself.
It doesn't feel too good.
Jaehyun is the first to snap and Mark can't blame him. While at first, he'd chosen to deal with his emotions by immersing himself fully in his athletics, in the end, he ends up clinging to the elder as though his pathetic life depends on it.
“I may have thought you were pathetic before, but this,” Jaehyun cries, gesturing wildly at Mark who is currently spread eagle on the Jung living room floor, his hand hidden in a bowl of hot Cheetos. “This takes the motherfucking cake, my friend.”
But Mark is numb. He wants to react, but finds himself unable to. He deems the task too taxing on the brain. So glances at Jaehyun before returning to his solemn munching.
“So now you're not even gonna talk to me ?” Jaehyun scoffs. On a regular day, Mark would be scared, but not today.
“I'm hurting,” he whines, sitting up.
“There are more productive ways to deal with your pain, and you know it,” Jaehyun growls .
“What do you know about hurting, Jae?” Mark wonders, looking down at the clear bowl in his hands.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Mark has hit a nerve.
“Low blow,” Jaehyun reprimands, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.
Mark is ashamed to say the least.
But, as mad as he may be, Jaehyun isn’t one to hold grudges.
“Look,” the elder sighs, sitting up against the couch. “When I got out of my last relationship, I was devastated… I ended up going out almost every night that summer. I drank a shit ton, and even tried Molly for a bit. That's around the time the accident happened.”
The accident Jaehyun refers to had been a big one in Ottawa’s mill of gossip a summer ago, when the elder chose to walk into oncoming traffic. The results were a lawsuit, two broken fingers, and a shattered clavicle.
“Wait…” Mark gasps, finally letting go of his hot Cheetos to gape at his elder. “You mean…?”
“Yeah,” Jaehyun laughs quietly, turning to Mark. “I was so hopped up on ecstasy that I didn't even notice the car hit me till I woke up strapped to a gurney in the ambulance.”
“Woah,” Mark breathes. He’s sure that his eyes are comically wide. “That's wild.”
Jaehyun smiles, despite the grim detailing of the incident that could have cost him his life.
“You think?” he teases.
“So,” Mark continues, setting aside the bowl. “What'd you do after? To, like, cope I guess?”
“Apart from the therapy my mom made me do?” Jaehyun starts, tilting his head pensively. “First, I cut down on the partying. Then, I started playing piano again. It made me feel at peace, and eventually, I basically forgot about the breakup. Life-threatening accidents really change your perspective of things, you know?”
“That's…” Mark falters, not quite knowing how to describe what he feels. He settles for a quiet, “Nice.”
“Oh,” Jaehyun remembers loudly. “I also started to smoke a shit ton of medicinal marijuana for the pain as treatment. I truly was winning at life.”
“Pothead,” Mark snorts, nudging Jaehyun’s shoulder. The elder lightly pushes him back as they both laugh.
“Tell you what,” Jaehyun offers, crossing his legs, once they’ve both quieted down. “Come to Yuta's New Year’s party tonight. It's gonna be lowkey and I'll be there the entire time.”
Mark frowns in confusion. “Doesn't that go against everything you just said?”
“Uh, no,” Jaehyun assures, but Mark isn't convinced.
“Right,” he singsongs, his tone sarcastic.
“Trust me,” Jaehyun laughs, putting his arm over Mark’s shoulder. “You're nowhere near going the down same path I trampled.”
Well, Mark thinks, he isn’t wrong.
“Fine,” Mark says after a moment of silence. “I'll come.”
Within the next two hours, Mark has cleaned up. The change is significant, being that it happens to be the first time he’s showered since his last conditioning session, two days prior.
He steps into Yuta’s house, trailing closely behind Jaehyun as the elder greets his friends. Mark doesn’t know them all too well, but they greet him nonetheless. Most pat him on the back calling him things such as Phelps Jr, or Ryan Cochrane’s Protégé. Each of them are flattering, but none have the same as Superstar.
Mark can’t remember the last time he heard the name as it slipped from Donghyuck’s tongue (read: Mark doesn’t want to remember the last time he heard the name he so desperately wants to hear once more.).
By the grace of God, or some other force, Mark hears it.
He’s just finished taking his second bong hit ever when Donghyuck practically busts into Yuta’s bedroom. Its owner coughs awkwardly, tapping Mark on the shoulder.
“I’m gonna go mingle,” Yuta smiles knowingly, brushing off his skin tight jeans. He pats his purple bong twice before adding, “Take good care of Simon for me.”
It takes Mark too much willpower than he’d like to admit to avoid meeting Donghyuck’s piercing gaze.
“Hey, Superstar,” is all Donghyuck has to say to break said willpower. Mark looks up.
In other words, Mark Lee is whipped.
“Hi,” is all that Mark manages to force out.
There’s a flash of something Mark can’t decipher in Donghyuck’s eyes before the hurt is back.
“I’m gonna make this quick because my lactose intolerant ass just devoured a bar of chocolate that I’m pretty sure wasn’t even chocolate to begin with and I’m either about to start shitting myself both literally and figuratively, or I’m going to overdose on edible marijuana.”
“No,” he says quickly, and his eyes are pleading. “I want you to hear me out,” he continues, though he doesn’t seem too sure. “No, actually. I need you to hear me out, okay? So don’t speak until I’m done... Or pass the fuck out. Whichever comes first.”
Mark opens his numbing mouth to speak, before sealing it shut. He nods.
Donghyuck smiles brightly before speaking again. “Alright. You broke my fucking heart, man. You stomped on it, spat on it, then tossed it to the side of an abandoned road.” Donghyuck lists off his slender fingers. “The worst part is, I don’t even think you realize you did. I like you, Superstar. I really, really do. More than, like, everything else in the universe. So, when you messaged me on Christmas, I was… Ecstatic. What you said was better than any gift anyone could have ever given to me, yet you took it all away from me in less than two fucking seconds, Superstar. All because you were too pussy to even let me respond. Do you know how whack that is?”
Donghyuck pauses his rant. By now, he’s kneeling before Mark, who’s still stuck on the floor. He hasn’t been able to move since Donghyuck entered the room.
“The answer is real whack, by the way.” Donghyuck concludes, neatly clasping his hands in his lap.
Mark knows he has tears in his eyes, but he’s too stunned to do anything about them. He lets the tears fall freely.
“I’m sorry,” he sobs, sniffling pathetically. Everything he does has been pathetic, recently.
“I know you are,” Donghyuck smiles, taking one of Mark’s hands. His grip is iron tight. “And while I would love to hear what beautiful words you have to share, I’m pretty sure I’m starting to trip right now,” he laughs, lowering himself onto his butt. There's a look of absolute fear on his face. “Has the carpet always been this colour?”
Mark doesn’t have the heart to tell him that they’re in fact sat on hardwood flooring. He squeezes Donghyuck’s hand.
“I think it’s time for you to go home,” he sniffs, pulling Donghyuck closer. The younger male takes this as an invitation to lay his head in Mark’s lap. His eyes are wide and fearful.
“I don’t think I can go home,” he says, his sobbing just as loud as Mark’s. He's sweating. “Luis is gonna kill me.”
“I think Luis would want to know you’re safe, though--”
“No!” Donghyuck cuts in, his fingernails cutting into Mark’s thighs. “Please.”
“I don’t know what you want me to do…”
“My cousin,” Donghyuck slurs shakily. “He drove me here.”
He didn't know Jaemin could drive.
“No,” he cries, shaking his head. “Taeyong… His name is Taeyong.”
Mark stills for a moment. Taeyong Lee is easily one of the most terrifying students enrolled in their school.
“You really are related to, like, everyone--”
The rest of his sentence his drowned out by Donghyuck’s sudden deafening shriek. And Mark starts to cry all over again. He holds onto Donghyuck even tighter, his mind too fuzzy to even laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Eventually, Yuta barges into the room, a white haired Taeyong in tow. The latter has concern written all over his face.
“What happened?” Yuta asks, kneeling next to the pair, his brows knit.
Mark shakes his head. “I don’t know!”
“What do you mean, you don’t know ?” Taeyong demands, taking one of his cousin’s clammy hands.
Donghyuck’s voice only succeeds in attracting even more attention, only this time, it’s unwanted. Curious eyes begin to pool outside the bedroom as Donghyuck clings to Mark.
“Donghyuck,” Taeyong sighs, pulling his hand away. “It’s Taeyong. You gotta let me carry you, okay?”
“But, I don’t want you!”
Mark laughs nervously. “Donghyuckie, you told me to get him…”
“But you’re the only one who can handle me, Superstar…” Donghyuck whispers, eyes wide. “Didn’t you know that?”
“I, uh…” Mark starts, unsure of what to say. Taeyong gives him a look that he interprets as Play along. So he does. “Oh shit, you’re right. I forgot. My bad.”
Donghyuck nuzzles into Mark’s touch in response while Taeyong sighs in defeat, standing up. Mark smiles at him and pokes his cheek.
“Hey, Donghyuck,” he starts slowly.
“Yes?” the boy hums, eyes closed.
“We're gonna have to stand up now.”
The younger boy is silent for a moment, his focus directed to his lower lip, which is chews voraciously.
“Okay,” he nods, placing his hands into Mark’s. “I trust you.”
Mark is grateful for his years of athletic training. Without it, he never would have been able to carry Donghyuck all the way down to Taeyong’s blue 98 Corolla.
“I'll take him to my place,” Taeyong declares once the two boys are buckled in.
Donghyuck has his head in Mark’s lap. He's tracing circles into the palm of Mark’s hand to the beat of the car’s low hum.
“Will your parents not ask questions?”
“I wanna go to Superstar’s house.” Donghyuck whines, clinging onto Mark. “Chanmi-nuna always has the best bagels in her kitchen.”
“And I'm guessing you're Superstar?”
“Yeah…” Mark practically squeaks.
“God…” Taeyong huffs, putting the car in reverse to back out of Yuta’s driveway. “I've finally put a face to the name.”
Mark blinks, his head cocked. “Huh?”
At this, Taeyong snorts, shaking his head.
“He doesn't shut up about you,” he relays knowingly, and Mark flushes.
“Oh...” he laughs breathily, looking down at the boy.
“Don't act so surprised,” Donghyuck groans loudly, playing with Mark’s hand. “You're one of a kind.”
Mark rolls his eyes, but stays silent. Any and all replies fading away, just as the effects of weed have on his person.
He tells Taeyong where to go and leans his head back on the headrest. It's been an eventful night, and he's tired.
Before he can drift off to sleep, Mark can feel Donghyuck tugging at the sleeve of his shirt.
The single syllable of his actual name is careful and foreign in Donghyuck’s mouth. It sends chills down his spine that the Canadian winter can't ever compete with.
“Yeah,” he says, looking down at Donghyuck. Their gazes meet.
Donghyuck’s voice is small as he says the words, “Don't let go.”
It's a promise he keeps, Mark later finds out. When he wakes up in the middle of the night, he's in his bed, and his arms are wrapped around Donghyuck, who's beginning to stir.
Even in the darkness of the room, Mark can easily see the confusion etched across the younger's face.
“Still high,” he teases once the boy is fully awake.
“I don't think so,” Donghyuck admits, rubbing his eye. “You?”
“Not at all.”
“Good,” the boy smiles, before turning serious. “Now come down here.”
He pulls Mark down by the front of his shirt before the swimmer even has the time to react. Their mouth crash together in a fumbled, inexperienced kiss.
But Mark doesn't mind, for it perfectly sums up the pair.
Donghyuck pulls away, satisfied.
“I've been waiting to do that for a while now, and I must say: you have lived up to my expectations, Superstar.”
Mark rolls his eyes. “Go back to sleep, Damien.”
Jan 01 2017, 05:20
pls tell me ur alive
don't disappear on me like that omg
He looks down at Donghyuck's sleeping figure and smiles before typing his reply.
Jan 01 2017, 05:24
yeah dw abt me
luv u tho
Jan 01 2017, 05:24
LOL did y'all smash???
Jan 01 2017, 05:25