Taehyung can’t tell where the floor ends and where the walls begin. A continuous space with no beginnings and no ends, no corners and no doors. Everything is white and Taehyung stands in the middle of it - lost. He looks down on himself and tugs at the end of his white sweater, stretching it until he can see his feet drenched in water through the small holes. It reaches his ankles, and it has the same colour as the universe he is in - pure white. Nothing reflects on its surface, not even his figure, not even a shadow, and for a fleeting moment, he asks himself if he even exists or if he’s a projection of someone’s delusive mind.
But… his heart still beats against his ribcage (he feels it when he presses his hand against his chest), so he must be alive, or at least, he must exist.
He opens his mouth to say something, maybe a faint “hello”, but only air comes out. There is no sound, just silence. Deafening silence, making him dizzy, numbing his senses until he loses the feeling in the tip of his fingers. Taehyung wiggles his toes in the water, but the action doesn’t register to him; he is numb to the point that he loses control over his own body.
He should be scared. He should be screaming and kicking and yelling for help, but… an eerie calm washes over him in waves and Taehyung is finally at peace with the world. He stands at the border between reality and fantasy and he steps over it without a second thought, without looking back. There’s nothing left behind him, so why should he hesitate? His being feels lighter and there are no blues and purples dripping over tomorrow, absorbing the light and giving back only darkness.
There is no tomorrow. There is no yesterday. There is no future. Taehyung could spend his eternity in there and he wouldn’t mind. He lets himself fall.
He falls. He falls and forgets. A minute. A second. A year. An hour. Taehyung doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there, feet rooted to the ground. He doesn’t feel the gentle touch of time. Atemporal place, where everything is coated in white, like some sort of heaven. Is this heaven?
Hell could be white because what better way to see the pains and griefs of tortured souls than splattered on white canvases?
Is this his hell?
He clutches at his chest again, curious about what colours reside in his soul, when there’s a rumble like something is cracking above him. Coming for him. He tilts his head back and he gets dizzy with how fast he did it. He tries to focus, but he sees only spots. Red spots on a white canvas.
The sky starts crying blood. Big fat red tears falling from above him in a swift motion, dancing in the air, rotating as they fall down, down, into the water. Taehyung stretches out his hands, palms facing up and wait for the sadness of the world to hit him, but it never comes.
His vision clears after a second and sees that the sky is actually crying flowers, and flowers don’t hurt anybody. Red spider lilies are floating gracefully around him, broken wings against the air, falling until they hit the surface of the water.
There is white.
There is red.
There is Taehyung.
Something tugs at his little finger and Taehyung raises his hand to look at it. There is a thin thread around it, tied tightly, but not enough to hurt. A careless knot is made in the place of a pretty ribbon, and Taehyung touches it with his finger, scared that it might crumble like ashes. It doesn’t. Still, it’s bothering him, making him feel like he is being tagged and he wants to untie it.
The second he touches it, Taehyung wakes up with a start in his bed, drenched in sweat.
The clock on his nightstand tells the sad story of 6:45 am. Five more minutes before his alarm would have woken him up. His heart hurts, vile grip around it. Black drips onto his lungs and he feels like he is suffocating.
He sighs and throws his legs over the edge of the bed, landing on the fluffy slippers he indulged himself by buying last month. He raises his left hand again, wiggling his little finger in the air. There is no red string tied to it. Dreams are just dreams, after all.
Taehyung sets down the half-empty vodka glasses on the bar and looks up at Namjoon. The cork is trembling in his grip so he places that down too, wiping his sweaty palms on his black pants.
He smiles. “Yes, Namjoon-sshi?”
“I told you to call me hyung.” Namjoon sighs. “Taehyung--”
Teahyung frowns. Is something wrong? He turns his head to check up on his tables and sees the women in the corner smiling at him. He nods his head and turns back to his boss.
“I know you are tired. I know school is hard on you, but--” Namjoon sighs again and scratches his neck above his stiff collar. “Lots of customers pay our bills. Lots of happy customers pay our bills and a fancy meal in Hongdae.”
Taehyung knows where this is going. He had already known since the minute he stepped into that bar that night. Yet he stands still, hands near his body, back straight and a tie too tight around his neck. He breathes out the air he wasn’t even aware he was holding in.
“You know what you’ve gotta do, right?”
Taehyung nods. He smiles his rectangular smile, feeling his heart crack a little more. Namjoon pats his shoulder and hands him a bill.
“Take this to the guy in the corner. The creepy guy.” Namjoon points to a man and Taehyung sees a hunched form over a book. He nods, takes the black leather notebook, checks the sum, and plasters a smile on his lips, spinning on his heels to get the job done.
He hears giggles and snickers around him, drunken slurs and wandering hands. Taehyung smiles, left hand behind his back, right hand in front of him, with a white towel hanging on his forearm.
“Here you go, sir. I hope you enjoyed your night with us.”
The guy - small, gray hair, everlasting resting bitch face - looks up and quirks an eyebrow at him, the corners of his mouth twitching in amusement.
“Lose the creepy smile kid. Don’t ruin my night.”
Taehyung blinks and dims the intensity of his smile, but doesn’t erase it completely. He hands the guy his bill and waits for the money without even blinking or changing his stance.
Later, when the last drunkards are sent home and Taehyung sits on a stool, ice water in his hands, Namjoon pinches his cheeks and hands him his tips. The wad of money is big, bigger than most of the nights and he can’t fathom why.
“Told you to smile more. The grumpy man left you half of this. It’s good to be happy, right?”
Taehyung nods, pleased smile gracing his lips.
Taehyung nods and agrees.
Taehyung nods and feels dirty on the inside.
Taehyung lets himself be lulled to sleep by the quiet thumping of the branches against the window. It’s rhythmic, almost annoying, but Taehyung falls harder and harder until the bed evaporates underneath him until the walls dissolve into nothingness, and Taehyung finds himself standing in the middle of the white room.
Red spider lilies are not falling from the sky this time, but they are floating on the water as far as he can see, to the edge of the place and beyond. Taehyung knows what they mean, knows what misfortune they bring when they bloom in your way. And yet, he doesn’t fear them. Taehyung simply bends, picks up one, and brings it to his lips, kissing the stems. He tastes death on his tongue, a warm feeling creeping over him, from the crown of his head to the tips of his fingers.
He senses it before it happens, like a bad omen, but this time everything feels serene. Taehyung opens his eyes and shakes his left hand - the thin red thread hanging from his little finger, down and down until it disappears under the water.
There is no wind in all that emptiness, no temperature whatsoever, but Taehyung shivers. The flower in his hand crumbles to pieces, scarlet ashes slipping between his fingers, perishing into thin air as if it never existed.
He blinks and the flowers are melting like candles.
He blinks and the world is white again.
So ephemeral, Taehyung thinks and flexes his little finger, thread creating ripples in the water. He raises his hand higher and higher, expecting to see the end of the thread, but he never does. It stretches to Taehyung’s right and gets lost underwater, in the distance, beckoning him forward like a rabbit.
Out of hell. Straight to Wonderland.
The rabbit is red and Taehyung follows, gathering the thread in his palms, never losing the sight of his feet stepping under the water. It feels like he is floating. He knows this isn’t true, yet he still hopes. For what? There is no answer. Just a thin thread taking him forward. Forward into the void, where he's being is ripped apart and put together again with each step he takes. He feels new again, fresh air breathing through his lungs and he wants to run and scream and jump in joy, but his feet stay glued to the ground.
He can’t tell for how long he walks, eyes always trained on the ground, on the water of a white so pure he wonders if the filth of the world could turn it gray. As if on cue, the water flickers with dark tones and Taehyung looks up. A shadow looms on the horizon, edges blurred from too much white. The red string gets shorter and stretches over the water, taking him to the strange silhouette. Taehyung tugs at it. The shadow turns its head and Taehyung wakes up in his bed to the song of his morning alarm.
Frustration seeps into his bones and he yells. He yells until the traces of slumber leave him and his alarm stops, going into snooze mode.
The bell rings and class is dismissed. Taehyung gathers his books in his blue backpack and waits while the students exit the amphitheater, blocking the door and shouting nonsense while the professor admonishes them. He plays with the frog eraser, eyes unfocused and minds drifting away from the present. He rubs his little finger, wishing he could close his eyes and wake up in his dreams.
“Did you like that much our talk about values of Korean Society in Choson Dynasty and how the second half of it witnessed the dismantling of the medieval qualities our people maintained for centuries that you’re staying behind, Kim-sshi?”
Taehyung almost drops his frog eraser, having completely forgotten about the presence of another human being. He rises from his seat and bows very low, apologies stumbling over his lips, and leaves the classroom, feet dragging him to the library. He has to write a paper on the effects of changing values on Korean people. His assignment for Modern Korean Historiography is still untouched, but he has to work in a few hours. There is no food in his apartment except for some kimchi ramen. Maybe he should eat tonight, at the pub.
Yet, all he wants to do is sleep for the next decade, if possible.
Taehyung stops in his tracks and turns around. A boy - Taehyung thinks his name is Hoseok - stops in front of him, a small smile gracing his lips and playful glint sparkling in his eyes.
“I waited for you, but you are so fast that I lost you.”
What could Taehyung do but to shrug and offer half an apology - “I’m sorry?.” He doesn’t know Hoseok that well, even though he has seen him around campus a couple of times.
Hoseok laughs and throws a hand over his shoulders, tugging him in the opposite direction.
“Let’s grab something to eat. I know this place, near the art building, that’s having—”
“Ah, I really can’t.” Taehyung’s voice is small but steady. He can’t remember when the last time he went out with someone was, but he also can’t forget how much work he has to do.
“Studying and work.” Taehyung raises one shoulder because there is nothing he can do about it.
“No wonder professors like you. You study so much.” Hoseok ruffles his hair. Taehyung pouts, but his stomach drops to his feet. He could eat a warm meal right now, but the bills need to be paid as well and kimchi ramen sounds edible enough.
Hoseok leaves him in the middle of the hallway with a wink and a wave of his hand, dragging another tall kid after him. Hoseok waited for him and Taehyung didn’t even remember his name. When you have to remember cocktails’ names and food orders, historical years and theory, you don’t have enough space left for anything else.
“You’re still scary, kid.”
The taciturn gray-haired man is there tonight as well. This time, Taehyung completely ignores him and sets down a crystal glass with a tall, slim leg. Taehyung smiles.
“Your French 75 cocktail, sir.” Pause. Smile. “Enjoy your evening and let me know if you need anything else.” Smile.
The man snorts but takes it anyway and without further ado, he downs it in one gulp. Taehyung feels his eyes getting bigger, but he coughs and hides his surprised gasp behind his hand.
“What? Can’t a man have bad days?”
Taehyung fiddles with the tray in his hands and wonders if he should get another drink. Because bad days are nothing new. They are bad days. That’s it. Alcohol doesn’t cure them but makes them slide more easily down the throat.
“Can I get you anyth—”
“Just get me your strongest whiskey on the rocks. Actually no. No ice. Just whiskey. A whole bottle.”
Taehyung nods. Taehyung smiles. Taehyung scurries back to the bar and asks Namjoon to give him his strongest whiskey.
“I hope you’re not gonna drink it in the toilets, are you?”
Taehyung drops his smile and sets for a scowl.
“No. That customer wants it.” Taehyung points with his finger behind his back, only to have it swatted.
“Don’t point at customers,” Namjoon scolds him while taking a small bottle from under the bar and handing it to him. There is this look in his eyes as if he knows more than he tells. “It’s on the house.”
Taehyung takes it to the table and says again: “It’s on the house”. He leaves before the man can open his mouth and protest.
The shadow is just a shadow. A black mass flickering against a white canvas with a red thread tied to its little finger. It beckons Taehyung with his index finger, tugging at the string and pulling him forward.
Taehyung manages to get closer this time and he notices the height difference between them. Taehyung stops and frowns. The shadow slumps his shoulders and tilts his head, asking “why?”. Taehyung averts his eyes and answers “I don’t know”.
The shadow reaches out its right hand, red string hanging from his finger, and Taehyung wants to catch it and hold it, but as a sick song played on repeat, he wakes up before his fingers can touch the smoky hand. He doesn’t scream. He just blinks once, twice, and sleep leaves his bones as if it was never there.
Taehyung wakes up, swings his feet over the edge of the bed, feet touching the slippers, and he goes into the bathroom, splashing cold water on his face.
The class is making him drowsy. The professor’s front teeth, crooked and stained with yellow, make him sick. The guy next to him snores slightly, his nostrils fluttering with every breath he takes and it’s making Taehyung want to gouge his own eyes out with his pencil.
The bell rings and Hoseok asks him out again. Taehyung refuses again, says “next time?” and ignores how the light in Hoseok’s eyes dies a little. They part ways where life meets routine.
The kimchi ramen is cold by the time he actually wills himself to swallow more than two bites. The bench outside the convenience store is cold and wet. It rained. Taehyung leans back on his elbows and watches the sky. He wishes he could tell the clouds apart, by forms and colours, inventing stories and characters too wonderful for that world. He is no longer ten years old though, so he only sees shapeless forms colliding into each other due to the movement of masses of cold and hot air. He sighs and wonders if his mouth will forever be set in a straight line.
His question is answered an hour later, when he smiles and takes an order for a couple, cracking jokes and flattering the lady with cliche pick-up lines. The woman smiles shyly, the blush on her neck reflecting on her white pearls. The man creeps his hand further up on her thigh, and Taehyung pretends her smiles are for his good services.
He smiles and returns to Namjoon.
He smiles and goes back with a fancy bottle of Champagne Henriot 2000.
He smiles and ignores the hand up her skirt.
He smiles and wipes the tables, Bloody Mary spilled even on the chairs.
He smiles and stops the tremor in his limbs.
He smiles and accepts the tips.
He smiles and goes back home, to his textbooks and an empty house.
He smiles while he writes his essay on the principle of Confucianism in early South Korea.
He smiles and crashes in his bed, works clothes still on as sleep takes over him.
He doesn’t smile anymore, masks dropping like flies in the summer’s heat.
For the first time in a few nights, he doesn’t dream.
Taehyung wakes up feeling more tired than ever. He raises his left hand and looks at his fingers, but drops it back on the blanket, mouth filled with disappointment.
He looks at the calendar hanging on the wall as he takes his last clean sweater from the drawer. The date of the 25th was circled multiple times in red, and as soon as he sees it his mouth stretches into an effortless smile, the skin breaking in wrinkles around his eyes.
Sunrays break through the thick blanket of clouds, bouncing off the grey walls, swimming in the puddles on the ground. There is a happy skip to Taehyung’s step as he avoids getting his shoes wet, zig-zagging on the sidewalk with his blue backpack dangling on his shoulder.
He smiles. He grins and he laughs under his breath. There is a cute dog in a pet shop’s windows, and he turns and coos at him, feet carrying a little to the right, eyes trained on the small animal. He only stops when he trips and lands on the ground, pain shooting up his ass and settling in his lower back. A small whimper escapes his lips and he rubs the sore spot as he tries to pick up his dignity and pride from the ground.
“Oh my god, are you ok?”
Taehyung blinks up at a stranger who stopped to look at him and sees locks of dark hair, crescent moons instead of eyes and a mouth that’s used to smile more than frown, and Taehyung thinks that it doesn’t look good on him.
Taehyung refuses the hand that’s offered to him and gets up himself, patting his legs, searching for broken bones, but he doesn’t find anything wrong. He throws a carefree smile over his shoulder as he speeds to his class, oblivious to the way his shirt had two buttons undone and his backpack was almost falling off of his shoulder.
Taehyung is ten minutes late to the History of Korean Confucianism class, but he doesn’t care. He dreams with his eyes open about boys with moons instead of eyes.
The gray-haired man doesn’t come tonight and Taehyung is a little bored. As a matter of fact, not many people come, so Namjoon lets Taehyung leave early, with a promise of an off day if he finds somebody else to hire.
“You know we can’t give you many off days until that, right?”
Taehyung nods while he’s polishing some wine glasses.
“You’re the best at remembering the menu and guessing the customer’s need. We need you here all the time.”
Taehyung gets home with little tips, discards his work clothes near the bed, plops on the chair and starts reading about the Koryo dynasty. Somewhere around two in the morning letters start to mingle, becoming indecipherable, and he starts to play with his red pen. Why does he have one? He hates red. He stares at it for two whole minutes, uncaps it and draws a circle around his little finger. Sleep is kissing his eyes closed, so he closes his book and flops in the middle of the bed, rolling around until he gets under the blanket.
The moon shines on him through the window.
There is white.
There is red.
There is Taehyung.
Spider lilies bump against his ankles, and Taehyung prods at the red petals with his toe. For a second, he feels like the pretty flowers will disappear, but they stay solid against his skin. Maybe a little cold. Definitely cold. It’s the first time he feels something in there and that means he is closer to reality.
A sound from behind wakes Taehyung up from his reverie, little finger twitching. He turns and sees a face instead of a shadow. A head on shoulders. A torso and legs. Arms, fingers, ears. Black hair and crescent moons instead of eyes.
Taehyung wants to say something, but words are suddenly a foreign concept, so he opts for an awkward wave of his hand.
The shadow - a kid (maybe his age?) - smiles and Taehyung gapes, pieces from a puzzle falling into place.
The stranger raises his right hand and shows him his little finger. Taehyung raises his too and the string is suddenly shorter and propels him forwards. The stranger opens his arms, waiting with a blinding smile painted on his face and…
… Taehyung wakes up.
He doesn’t curse since he’s frozen in bewilderment, forehead breaking out in cold sweat.
The kid he bumped into earlier - that kid appeared in his dreams.
“You seem happy, kid.”
Taehyung looks up from his iPad where he is writing down the order.
“I am always happy.”
The man scoffs and closes his book. Taehyung would be lying if he said he isn’t a little bit curious about this man’s whereabouts, and about his books, but he keeps his mouth shut. He resumes reading the title whenever he brings a new book with him.
“Sure. That’s why you’re always scaring me with your creepy smile.”
Taehyung double checks the order and straightens his white apron.
“It’s the job,” he says matter-of-factly because he can’t take orders with a sullen face.
“Fuck the job, you’re not a product of--”
For the first time in weeks, Taehyung laughs. His voice is so rich and powerful that a few tables turn to watch him. He excuses himself, bowing slightly, and turns his attention back to the man.
“Are you gonna feed me the “fight club” bullshit?” He pauses while he takes the menu from the table. “I am not my job, but the job pays my bills. I am not my bills, but they offer me a safe haven when the winter hits hard. Smiles are the only thing I have to offer that bring me enough money to pay for all of that.”
Later that night, he doesn’t feel bad when Namjoon doesn’t give him the tips. He was disrespectful to one of the regulars, and even though that man was more entertained than upset, Taehyung still had to pay for the expensive Margarita.
There is white.
There is Taehyung
There is a boy.
The boy tilts his head and smiles, eyes disappearing, and Taehyung swears there are flowers blooming on this stranger’s face. “Hello to you too.”
It sounds like bells are singing softly in the wind, and Taehyung finds himself smiling. He fidgets in his place, toying with the red string, too afraid he will look up and find the place empty again.
“Strange dream you have here. Do you like white?”
Taehyung loves colours, but when your life is a film noir, even your dreams become one.
“That’s no… I mean no. But it was like this when it first happened. White.” Taehyung pauses, looks away and back again. “Are your dreams like this as well?”
The boy shrugs, shakes his head, and there is a sad smile gracing his lips. Taehyung tries to understand but fails miserably.
“There used to be flowers. Before you.”
The boy looks around him and he frowns when he can’t see anything but white. “Did I make them go away?”
Taehyung doesn’t know. “They were red, even though I don’t like red.”
The boy giggles and raises his hand. “This is red,” and points to the string. “Did you try to untie it?”
Taehyung raises his hand as well. “Yes. I woke up. Did you?”
The boy doesn’t answer and soon after, the silence embraces them.
Taehyung doesn’t know what to do with his hands as he watches the boy in front of him. He starts to play with the string absentmindedly and he wishes he had the eloquence from his job.
“What’s your name?”
The boy startles and looks at Taehyung with big round eyes. There is no trace of the previous happiness on his face and he really wants to answer, but he can’t. Taehyung witnesses the struggle and feels his heart shrink in his chest.
“Are you even real?”
Taehyung wakes up and he cusses. Of course, he is not real.
Once upon a time, Taehyung was a small child who loved to draw. Small scribbles in the corner of his textbooks and stories told at dinner time about what a great artist he would become one day.
Once upon a time, Taehyung loved art, but the big bad wizard told him art won’t feed him so Taehyung threw away his crayons in the toilet, clogging it up.
Bits of memories on how to draw certain things stuck with him along the way, and he tries to remember how to outline the proportions of the human head in the dim light of the lamp.
He thought he forgot how to hold a graphite pencil, but sliding it against a white sheet of paper feels like coming home.
He remembers how the boy’s eye bounced upon his cheeks when he smiled and he presses the pencil a little harder on paper, the lines getting sharper and sharper. Then, he smudges the graphite with his thumb until there are two blotches under the eyes and Taehyung likes to think they somehow resemble the blush that was present on his cheeks like flowers were blooming permanently underneath his skin. He switches his 8B to a 4B and starts outlining the nose. A delicate pencil for a delicate nose, like a button, a little bit scrunched up.
With a 2B he draws the wrinkles around his mouth, his eyes and a bit of hair that falls in his eyes. He switches back to the 8B and starts on the mouth, focusing on getting right the plumpness and the fluffy feeling that came with it. Taehyung doesn’t forget to add the little upturn of the boy’s mouth’s corners, and then he takes a piece of charcoal and draws the hair in large, quick strokes.
Taehyung is done and he feels exhilarated as he looks at his drawing, reclining in his chair. Maybe with this, he will be able to find him on the streets of Hongdae, find out his name, and maybe find a friend instead of a stranger.
He’s so excited to go on an adventure that he forgets how human society works. He stops person after person on the sidewalk, showing them his drawing, hopeful spark shining in his eyes. Some of them give him puzzled looks and ask him if the boy from the picture is lost. If he has a name - it’s easier to find him by his name. When Taehyung tells them he only knows how he looks, those confused stares turned into scared stares and people start backing away.
Other people just push past him, sparing him not even a glance, too enraptured in their hot coffee and phone conversations. A tall guy wants to burn the drawing with his cigarette because Taehyung supposedly jinxed his morning by walking in front of him with a blue backpack. Taehyung yelps and runs away, clutching the drawing to his chest.
Taehyung gets “no” and “I don’t know” and “leave me alone, freak”. He gets confused glances, irritated looks and almost a punch in the face, because “you fucking homos should burn” and Taehyung tries to explain to him that it’s just a friend, but when the world closes up on you, you can simply watch as everything crumbles down.
He waits near the pet shop, paper trembling in his hands as Taehyung still clings to the last bit of hope he has.
The boy doesn’t come. Only rain.
When Taehyung exits the classroom this time, his mind is not on how much he has to study until 7:00 pm when his shift starts, but rather on how fast he can get home after he’s done with work. He’s not one to be excited about sleeping, but when someone visits him in his dreams, he wants to go back.
“Yo, Kim Taehyung!”
Maybe he can find out where the boy lives, or if he is from Seoul. There was a slight accent to his words, but Taehyung couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. His pace speeds up, walking faster and faster at the thought that maybe he could take a quick nap and see the boy now, only to be pulled back by Hoseok.
“Wha-- Hoseok-hyung. I’m sorry, but I’m in a hurry. Talk to you next time?”
Taehyung doesn’t even look Hoseok in the eyes as he spits out the words, too focused on getting things done. He sprints down the corridor, leaving a confused Hoseok with a hand raised in the air and a small frown on his lips.
“Do I know you?”
Taehyung looks up from his feet and stares at the boy.
“No. You tried to help me when I fell on the streets, but there is nothing more to it. Do you remember that?”
The boy nods his head and smiles. Taehyung’s breath catches in his throat.
“Are you okay? Is your butt still hurting?”
Taehyung laughs quietly at how concerned the boy looks.
“Nope,” he pops the p and puts his hand behind his back. “‘M all good.”
Taehyung takes the chance to step closer, careful not to scare him. He feels the weight of the thread in his palm and squeezes it.
“Are you from Seoul?”
The boy doesn’t answer and looks at Taehyung with big round eyes.
“Or, are you living in Seoul?”
At this, the boy nods his head, hair bouncing upon his head. “Do you live here as well?”
Taehyung takes another step. “Yes, I go to school here. I’m in my second year. What about you?”
“What do you study?”
“Do you like it?”
“Would you have done any other thing?”
“Nope.” And Taehyung stops. It feels like he’s talking with his conscience like many other times when he tried to convince himself that he did the right thing. He shakes his head and steps even closer.
“How come you don’t answer my questions? Why are you the one asking them?”
The boy shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“What do you do?”
“I don’t know.”
“How old are you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you even exist?”
“Where? Tell me your address.”
“I don’t know.”
“How the fuck can you not know?”
Taehyung kicks at the water and yanks at the thread and he wakes up on the floor with the blanket on top of him.
The is rain falling hard, soaking girls’ skirts and sticking the bangs to their foreheads. They say September weather is treacherous and that’s why Taehyung always carries an umbrella with him. He goes back to that street, hoping to see the boy again. He walks from shop to shop and talks to ladies and old men, asking for a boy with crescent moons instead of eyes. He shows them the picture he drew, but luck bypasses him today as well.
He decides to wait in the same spot, near the pet shop, and watches the crowd for a sign, for moon and stars, for dreams come true. But the hair is not black enough and the eyes are not happy enough, the gentle curve to them being absent from most of them. The faces are too pale and the smiles fake and Taehyung starts to wonder if all that was actually an illusion played by his mind.
Taehyung holds onto the paper a little tighter, drawing a circle around his finger with his index. The umbrella is wet in his grip, but he doesn’t let go. He can’t let go.
Taehyung sits on the water, legs folded under him, and raises his hand. The stranger raises his too, palm facing Taehyung. The water is warmer than before and it makes Taehyung’s toes tingle. There are questions floating in the stranger’s eyes and Taehyung asks “Why?” without opening his mouth. Like always, there is no answer.
The stranger chuckles, a beautiful squeaky noise, and Taehyung shudders.
“Do you know how books smell?”
The question is random, not related to the topic they discussed yesterday - or to the fact that Taehyung screamed in anger - but if that means hearing more of his voice, Taehyung doesn’t mind.
“Old books or new books?”
The boy - Taehyung started to call him a boy since there was no name attached to the pretty face - giggles again. “Old books. Everybody knows that new ones smell like chemicals. ”
Taehyung can almost laugh at how eager the boy is to hear his answer. “Some scientists say they could find notes of vanilla flowers and almond in the smell. Something sweet and flowery. ”
The boy frowned in confusion. “So there is no specific smell?”
“Not really. The whole thing is the result of a complicated mix of chemicals. Volatile chemicals, that is.”
The boy sits down as well, legs stretched in front of him and pressed tightly together, hands resting on his knees. He leans forward, his eyes focused on Taehyung’s every move and expression.
“The article I read last night said that the old book smell is produced by the breakdown of cellulose and lignin in the paper.”
The boy chews at his lower lip, eyes downcast. Taehyung feels that he wants to say something so he waits for him. “So,” the boy looks Taehyung in the eyes. “Those compounds can add almond-like scent or vanilla-like scent, right?”
Taehyung beams and nods his head.
“Interesting. It’s really interesting that even such a simple thing as a result of science.”
Taehyung stands up and pats his white trousers. His little finger tingles and he raises his eyes to look at the person in front of him.
“Do you think,” the boy starts, shy and avoiding eye contact, “that this is… uh… also a result of some sort of weird science?” He tugs at the string and looks down on it as if it could give any answers.
Taehyung sighs. “This is what I ask myself ever since it happened. Did it happen to you before we met in a dream?”
The boy stares at Taehyung blankly.
“Of course,” Taehyung mutters to himself but recovers quickly. “Then, maybe what we do in here won’t affect our lives, right?”
He starts walking towards the boy, desperate to try his theory. The thought had been bugging him from the very first time he realized that he wasn’t alone in the dream, and he wanted to try. He wanted to see if it was true, and he really hoped it wasn’t.
“What are you doing?”
Taehyung ignores him as he takes bigger steps towards him, stopping only a foot away from the boy.
“I wanna try something. Stay still.” He doesn’t wait for a response and simply extends his left hand, fingers trying to grab the boy’s. He thinks he can do it, he can actually feel the warm skin on his, but he wakes up a second later, hand clenching at the blanket. His knuckles hurt from how hard he squeezes and he throws it on the ground, stomping his feet on the bed like a small child who was being refused a candy.
“Taehyung-ah, do you wanna grab some drinks with me, grumpy man and his friend?” Namjoon asks him one night when Taehyung grabs his clothes from the locker room.
“Nope. Got stuff to do at home.” He zips up his jacket and stuffs a beanie on his head. “Some special occasion?” He doesn’t like to be rude, but sleeping has become his next favorite thing after history.
Namjoon dodges the question in favour of a different one. “You’re always in the rush, these days. Something good happened?”
Taehyung grins, feeling the bones in his face pop and spins for the exit. On his way out, Taehyung sees the man sitting in his corner, fingers playing with a glass full of brown liquid, and he wonders how much a man can drink.
For a second he wants to stop and say hi, to wish them a good night, but he has to finish his paper on principles of Confucianism, and the thought of three heavy textbooks opened on his desk, together with another hundred online articles opened on his laptop, makes him nauseous. So he speeds up, eyes focused in front of him, bumping into another person as he exits the pub. Taehyung doesn’t turn to look or apologise, even though it might be Namjoon’s friend. His little finger twitches, as if something tugs at it, and Taehyung scratches at it happily. He can’t wait to get home and sleep.
Taehyung is dressed in white. He always wears white in his dreams and he always fears that his skin looks darker than it was.
“It’s beautiful,” the boy says as if on cue, eyes following the contour of Taehyung’s jaw.
The boy points a finger to Taehyung’s face, and he wants to believe him. Taehyung told himself the same thing, and yet, he still doesn’t think it’s true.
“Do you think we will wake up if we touch?”
Taehyung cocks his head to the right, fingers prodding absentmindedly at his cheeks.
“Every time you tried to come closer, you disappeared.”
Taehyung nods. That did happen, but he is pretty sure he is the only one who wakes up. He’s the only one who’s real.
“Maybe you can’t touch me because I am not real.”
Something stabs Taehyung in the chest. He knows that, but he doesn’t like to be reminded. He just wants to lose himself a little bit more in this lukewarm fantasy.
“Why do you keep repeating things I already know?”
“Because you know them.”
“Tell me something new.”
“Do you think our fingers would fit together?”
Taehyung looks up at the boy, who is staring down at his hands, playing with the red string. The red in his cheeks intensifies, but Taehyung is confused. He did not think that. He never thought of that and he figured that the boy was like the voice of his conscious. Saying only the things Taehyung thought himself.
“Do you wonder if there would be sparkles when our hands would touch? I can already tell your hand is bigger.” He laughs nervously and continues. “Mine is smaller, see?” The boy raises his hand and wiggles his fingers, bubbly laughter spilling over his full lips.
Taehyung raises his hand, still confused. Fiddles his fingers as if he was playing the piano, red string waving in the air. The boy raises it too and does the same.
Maybe he did imagine how it would be?
“Tell me your name.”
There he goes again. Taehyung watches how color drains from the boy’s face, replaced with something that makes him look paper-thin. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He closes it, ponders, and then opens it, but there is no sound. Again.
“Tell me. Please.” Desperation seeps into Taehyung’s voice and he tugs harder at the string. He craves for answers that are out of his reach like he craves for food, for air, for water. His heart longs with sorrow and a type of feeling that’s foreign to him. It could be described as “missing something, someone”, but it’s much more than that. It feels incomplete, seeking out a type of warmth, of consolation that he can’t find in his own solace.
He tugs harder and harder at the thread, and the boy starts walking towards him, a confused look gracing his features. Why can’t he understand what Taehyung needs? What Taehyung wants? He comes closer and closer and Taehyung tugs desperately at the thread. The boy is scared by now and shakes his head violently, begging him to stop. Taehyung will wake up. He knows it. He will wake up the moment he tries to touch this ghost of his mind, but he doesn’t care. He just wants to see if the boy is real. If he exists. He can’t not exist, right?
Taehyung jerks his hands and the boy trips. Taehyung opens his arms and waits to wake up the moment the boy steps too close. He waits to see the ceiling of his room, cracked and dirty, but he is met with something warm against him, so soft that it makes his insides turn to dust. He looks down and sees a pair of chocolate eyes peering up at him, confusion and surprise written all over the boy’s face. He is in his arms. Solid and warm and there. He hugs him tighter to his chest and the boy yelps in surprise, waking up Taehyung.
He stares up at the ceiling, arms around himself and a stupid smile on his face. He could touch him and that means he might be real. Somewhere out in the world for Taehyung to find him. He could still feel the warmth seeping through his clothes, into his heart. He was real. He has to be real. He wasn’t just a dream.
Taehyung doesn’t have the heart to refuse Hoseok again, so he stays behind in class a little bit longer than usual, counting the seconds until he is sure Hoseok has left. No one waits for him outside and he sighs in relief as he hikes his backpack a little higher on his shoulder and goes to work.
He’s going once again over the main points in his paper in his head when he gets to the pub, oblivious to the world around him. Namjoon stops him with a hand on his shoulder and Taehyung looks up startled from his phone.
“Hello, Namjoon-sshi.” He smiles.
“Taehyung, you have a new coworker today. I think you can finally take off some days.”
Heavy stones drop in his stomach and Taehyung is not happy at all with the idea of getting less money than before. He schools his face into something less menacing and waits for his boss to do the introductions. A tall boy, maybe younger, maybe his age, appears in front of him and Taehyung frowns. He knows this boy. He’s seen him around Hoseok enough times to know they go to the same school together.
“Hello, Taehyung-sshi. I’m Jeon Jeongguk. Nice to meet you,” he says and he bows at forty-five degrees, stiff and with a straight face.
Taehyung waves a hand. “You can call me hyung if you’re younger.” At this, Jeongguk nods. “I’m Taehyung. Nice to meet ya’ too.”
The kid nods again but doesn’t say anything. He is eying Taehyung in a way that makes the older uncomfortable and he wonders if Jeongguk hates him. The chances are small though, and he brushes the attitude off with a careless shake of his head.
“If you have any questions, I can help you. Anything, really,” Taehyung smiles and puts a hand on his shoulder only to shake off by Jeongguk.
“I have one now,” he pauses and then he adds, “hyung.”
Taehyung ignores the venom. “Yes?”
“How come next time is never next time, hyung?”
It takes a while for Taehyung to realise what the kid meant and when he does, he feels guilty and almost drops the bottle he is holding. He turns around to watch Jeongguk tending to some customers, not sparing him even a glance. Taehyung sighs and counts the hours until he gets home on his fingers.
Jeongguk does hate him.
Taehyung is tired the moment he plops in bed, refusing vehemently to go over his paper again. He will hand it in like that when the due date comes and so be it. His body hurts and the only thing he wants to do is sleep. Sleep does come easy to him these days, and only because of something better waits for him on the other side.
“You came back!”
Taehyung doesn’t even have the time to settle in his dream before the boy is flinging himself into his arms, head nestled in the crook of his neck and hugging him tightly. Taehyung staggers for a bit, not knowing what to do with his hands before placing them gently on the boy’s back.
“Was there a possibility of me not coming back?”
The boy lets go but doesn’t step back. He cranes his neck and looks Taehyung in the eyes.
“After the last dream, I thought that maybe we overstepped some boundaries and you wouldn’t come back.”
“This is my dream. I don’t think I can escape from it by now. It’s been too long.”
“But not long enough for me.”
Taehyung chuckles at this. “You’re not real.”
The boy reels back in indignation, hand coming up to his chest. “But I am. I am very real.”
Taehyung doesn’t comment on it and sits down on the water. “I miss the flowers.”
The boy joins him. “What kind of flower were they?”
“Red spider lilies.”
There is white.
There is silence.
There are two boys who don’t know what to do with their lives.
Taehyung tugs at the thread, catching the boy’s attention. He looks up from his hands, questions swimming in his gaze as Taehyung shakes his head. He draws the thin string closer and closer until their little fingers almost touch.
“I can hold your hand now,” he says with half a voice.
The boy beams at this and goes for it.
Taehyung wakes up. It takes a while to actually realise he is no longer in the white room and when he does, he screams.
They waltz around each other in the pub, Jeongguk throwing nasty glances his way. He doesn’t come to Taehyung when he has questions and Namjoon is a little baffled because he has to handle the drink orders and a hormonal teenager with a grudge held against the wrong person.
Hoseok is a nice person and Taehyung is nice to nice people. It isn’t his fault that his program is hectic and his sleeping hours are precious. He doesn’t want to miss out on any of that by wasting time on meaningless stuff.
“Something on your mind, kid?”
The grumpy man closes his book and stares at him as Taehyung notes down his order.
“Just coffee with milk for you, sir?” He can’t help to raise an eyebrow at the odd order, expecting the man to ask for a little brandy in his coffee as well.
“I’m not an alcoholic, you know.”
“Never said that.” A cheeky smile plays on his lips as the man scoffs. He seemed to forget how Taehyung laughed in his face a few days ago, but it is good. At least someone is treating him like a human being and not a piece of cardboard who was wrongly placed in a room full of gold.
Jeongguk bumps into him on his way to the bar and Taehyung almost drops his iPad. Jeongguk doesn’t even flinch, nor does he apologise.
This time they don’t touch. They stand near each other, playing with the red string, but they don’t touch.
“Milk over cereals or cereals over milk?”
Taehyung laughs. “What kind of question is that? You already know the answer.”
“No, I don’t.”
It’s almost endearing how the boy whines and Taehyung wants to ruffle his hair.
“Cereals over milk. It’s one of the unwritten laws of the universe.”
The boy giggles and looks up at the ceiling. He seems to notice something because the smile slips off his face.
Taehyung doesn’t understand but agrees.
He can only agree.
Professor Rhee gives him the maximum grade on his paper about the principles of Confucianism in modern South Korea. Apparently it was so well written that Taehyung got congratulated in front of his class. Hoseok claps him on the back, squeezing his shoulders.
“How about a drink, Tae? We need to celebrate.”
Taehyung is reeling, but not from the good mark on his paper. The dream is still vivid against his eyelids and he wants to get home.
“I need to work. I’m sorry.” He feels like throwing up, but he says it anyway. “Next time?”
He doesn’t look back again, leaving Hoseok dejected as he goes to the pub. For the first time in months, he is happy. He smiles so hard that some customers are taken aback and forget some of their orders. Jeongguk might give him shit later for how he rejected Hoseok again, but he’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t care anymore. He got a great mark on his paper and the boy was waiting for him back home. Plus, it was the 25th of that month. Taehyung smiles as he notes down the man’s order.
“What—” the grumpy man starts. “Now that’s what I was talking about.”
Taehyung smiles again and bows before going to another table, taking the order from two older ladies.
Something falls from his pocket, a small paper folded in two and the grumpy man picks it up gingerly. From the indents on the back of it and the black stains, it looks like a drawing. He makes a move to call after Taehyung, but when he opens it and sees the content, he falls silent. He hides it in his book and waits for his coffee.
“What’s up with you tonight?” Namjoon is amused and indulges him in his shenanigans, but he still keeps an eye on Taehyung and his tables.
I had a great dream.
“Good grade for one of my papers.”
Namjoon laughs and says he will get a drink on the house later. “Do you even sleep?”
Taehyung shakes his head. “Of course. Sleep is important”
The bell from the door dings. New customers mean brighter smiles, but Taehyung doesn’t feel as dirty as before when he forced himself to shine.
“Namjoon-hyung, can I make a call after I take this order? It’s my mom’s birthday and I really wanna call her before she goes to sleep.”
Namjoon looks him up and down and calls Jungkook - who just arrived - handing him the group that just entered. The kid blanches when he sees there are almost 10 people and Taehyung reassures him he can handle it before going out through the back door. He trips and blames it on Jeongguk.
The night is chilly, September going in October, and he can already smell the first snow in the air. Taehyung talked to the boy about Daegu winters, blankets of snow and crystal angels shaped in white. The boy made him promise they would go and see that together when they met. Taehyung simply says “if.” Then he woke up.
A cat jumps from the dumpster as Taehyung leans on the wall, phone pressed to his ear. It rings once, twice, thrice. On the sixth ring he wants to hang up, but there is a click and the call is connected.
There is static inside Taehyung’s brains and for a second he forgets how to breathe.
“Happy birthday, mom.”
“Oh, thank you, Taehyungie.”
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear mom, Happy birthday to you!”
His voice is warm, melodic sounds pouring from his mouth and hitting the cold brick walls. It cracks when he mutters the last syllables, his mother’s sniffling not helping him regain his composure, but he keeps singing until he feels his throat becomes sore and tears dried at the corners of his eyes.
“Taehyungie, mom misses you.”
“I know, me too.”
“Dad too. You know he’s not—”
Taehyung takes in a deep breath, stopping his mother. “I know. I know. How is he?”
“He’s good. Okay. Today we sold all our cereals. Made some good money. Your father is proud because of this. You know how much he loves agriculture.”
Taehyung chuckles dryly because he knows.
“But, mom, how about—’
There is shuffling at the other end of the line and Taehyung waits for the impact.
“Hello son, how are you?”
“I’m good, I’m out on the balcony watching the city.”
He feels his tongue bitter against the canvas of his mouth, his veins full of acid.
“Oh, nice. It must be pretty nice up there, in the capital, right?”
Taehyung nods but he realises his father can’t see him. “Yes, it is. It’s calming, you know?”
“Yes, but Taehyung, today I sold some pretty nice kilograms of rice.”
Taehyung starts to play with the string of his apron, glancing at his watch. Two more minutes until his break is over.
“It would have been nice to have someone with me who could handle the numbers. It’s so hard for an old man like me to do them.”
If there is something Taehyung has learned in all his life, it’s to never interrupt his father when he is speaking.
“Daegu is a big city. That’s not the countryside. Didn’t you find anyone? I told you I could find you some—”
What Taehyung’s father didn’t learn was to let his son finish his ideas.
“Yes, but it would have been better to have my son near me. The Roho’s eldest son always goes with his father to the market on Sundays.”
“I know, father. But, can I talk to mom? I nee—”
“It’s really nice to see them together.”
Taehyung sighs, sensing the pattern.
“I know, father. But you know I can’t come when I have so much to study for school, you know?”
There is a pause. A dangerous one where he feels his resolve breaking. His mother’s voice breaks through the phone, hushed words for his father. His father ignores her.
“Like what? Did you need to go to school in order to study history? We could make more money and you could buy yourself however many books you wanted, if only-”
Taehyung hangs up and smashes his phone on the brick wall.
Taehyung manages to spill only five drinks that night, two on three ladies with tight dresses and red lipstick. Namjoon sends him home without his tips, again, and Taehyung has to convince himself not to sleep on the streets because of it just… He just doesn’t care anymore. He passes the restaurants and coffee shops in Hongdae, colorful lights for bland souls, ready to fill them up with the ecstasy of the moment, to replace the void and hide the falsity.
A pretty cup from Starbucks with sweet coffee could easily hide an ugly sneer behind it, right?
He pats his pocket for his drawing, thinking that maybe he could get his answers tonight, but he doesn’t find it. He would’ve expected to feel more shaken up, but he simply shrugs. The boy is not real anyway. Just his tired mind playing tricks on him.
Taehyung shudders but doesn’t stop. He doesn’t need another creep in his agenda. Not today. If he had accepted Hoseok’s offer, maybe he wouldn’t have been alone tonight. He hangs his head lower and covers his eyes with the hood of his jacket and prays that no one will call him.
“Do you believe in fate?” The old man tries again.
Taehyung stops in his tracks. Fate? What fate? He scoffs and turns to face the stranger.
“No. That’s stupid. Now leave me alone.”
The old man is not taken aback by the harsh answer, and he comes closer, gray cloak fluttering around his frame, together with a loose scarf.
“Let me give you something for you to trust fate again.” And he takes out a thin red thread and ties it around Taehyung’s little finger.
Taehyung’s world stops spinning and he feels like fainting. He wants to punch someone, preferably the universe, for mocking him. When he looks up again he finds the street empty of any old creepy men. He stares down at his finger, at the red string. It feels strangely like deja vu, but this time the world is not white. It’s black, very much real, dirt oozing from the cracks of the concrete. The street lights are blurry and Taehyung feels his mind heavy. If only he could lay down, for a second, just a second, and sleep. The honking of a car sobers him and Taehyung speeds down the street.
Later that night, the boy goes on rambling about varieties of coffees. Taehyung is there, but Taehyung doesn’t listen. His mind drifts off to a future that could have been happy and sunny, with warm food on the table and an old chair by the window, with towers made of books around it. A future he gave up for a pretty diploma.
The boy snaps his fingers into his face and Taehyung frowns.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“Something about coffee. You know it because I know it.”
The air suddenly becomes stiff and the boy drops his hands.
“That’s not true. I know about the coffee as well.”
There is white.
There is Taehyung.
There is the boy.
There is red.
Taehyung looks around him, at the flowers floating again on the water. For a few days, he forgot that hell can be white. Maybe his sorrows are red. He hates red.
“Told you the flowers are pretty.”
The boy looks around him and raises an eyebrow. “They are the flowers of--”
“I know”. Taehyung’s voice is sharp and unforgiving. “So is this place. And I’m tired of it.”
The flowers are increasing in number, covering the surface of the water with red petals and long stems, and Taehyung feels like he is suffocating. He lets out a dry laugh, eyes looking in the distance, at the place that somehow became so familiar to him that it started to feel like a home. A home that wasn’t real.
“I must’ve been really desperate, you know, to wish for all of this.” He spreads his arms wide, trying to make the boy understand. “To come up with an imaginary friend.”
“But,” and the boy’s voice sounds so broken, so small and something churns inside of Taehyung, but he doesn’t care anymore. “I am real. I’m alive.”
“Where? What’s your name? How old are you? Can you answer that?”
“I guess not. I bumped into someone good looking on the streets and my mind projected him into my dreams. What kind of fucked up brain do I have? Really?”
Taehyung drops his head, hair falling in his eyes. Sadness curls around his heart, red strings tight around it and Taehyung feels dizzy.
“I hate dreams.”
He raises his head and looks straight at the boy, so small, so fragile in that big white sweater, dark hair falling in soft waves on his head. Taehyung is standing, the boy is sitting down, and it feels like there are hundreds of worlds between them. And there are.
“They are not real. You’re not real.”
This time, Taehyung expects to wake up in his bed. What he doesn’t expect is to find his cheeks wet with moisture that's strange to him. He hasn’t cried in years and yet here he is, laying in his bed with dawn breaking through the night, and Taehyung cries. He cries, tears slipping down his face like little spiders, crawling under his chin and dripping on his neck. He presses the heels of his palms into his eyes, bites his lips, but the flow of emotions doesn't stop. It's not real, but oh, how he wishes it was. That white reality of his, such an unstable world that came crumbling down around him the same time as the real world.
Taehyung cries and the sun is up in the sky and Taehyung needs to get to class. He needs Hoseok to wait for him so he can reject him once again. He needs the snarky comments of the grumpy man. He needs Jeongguk to act like a brat and defend his friend in a very non-threatening way. He needs Namjoon to scold him for forgetting to smile. He needs to feel some normalcy in his life again.
Hoseok doesn't ask him out. Not today. Not tomorrow. He passes by Taehyung on campus, near the coffee shop they both go to take their dose of coffee of the day, and he just greets Taehyung with a sad smile. A smile that Taehyung deciphers easily, and feels he's the villain in a story that's not written by him. His exhausted mind blames everything on his father, but Taehyung knows better.
Never mix reality with fantasies, they say.
Taehyung just went and did exactly that.
His eyes linger on Hoseok's army jacket and a black beanie, but he sighs and gives up. Like many other times, he gives up.
There is white.
There is red.
There is Taehyung.
Taehyung is not alone, the boy sitting in front of him with a look on his face that's nowhere close to the sunshine he's used to. His mouth is downturned and the eyes are big and round, no trace of crescent moons. It feels like he is begging for something, but Taehyung doesn't look up from the flowers around him to see that.
He tugs at his string and he wakes up.
"You need to be more careful than that, Taehyung-ah. It's not fun to take your tips every time you break something."
It isn’t his fault that Jeongguk bumps into him every chance he gets. This time, a bottle full of vodka slipped from his grip to the ground, glass shattering to pieces as Taehyung blinks owlishly at the mess. He sighs. He is too tired for this and he doesn’t want to pick up the shards because it’s not his fault, but eyes are boring into his head, so he crouches down and picks up the glass with his bare fingers. Namjoon finds him like this and gives him a small broom and a dustpan while he scolds him. Taehyung has no words left to excuse himself and he doesn’t blame it on Jeongguk.
He dumps the mess into the trashcan, washes his hands, patches his cuts and goes back to his job.
On his way to a table, the grumpy man grabs his left wrist and looks insistently at it. Taehyung doesn’t get what he wants until he sees the red string still tied to his little finger from that night when he met the old man. Blood rushes to his face as he scrambles to untie it and drop it on the ground, trying to ignore the cold stare the rest of the night.
The boy tugs at his string, gaining Taehyung’s attention.
“How was your day?”
His voice is small, there are clouds in his eyes and Taehyung starts to believe that he’s losing control over his mind. He is going crazy.
This is just a dream.
“Did you have fun at work?”
This is just a dream.
“Did you keep looking for me?”
This is just a dream.
Taehyung jolts awake in his bed, feet dangling over the edge. No, he didn’t go back looking for the boy. He lost the drawing anyway.
It’s almost two in the morning as Taehyung downs another can of energy drink. His eyes are heavy, but the books keep him awake. He won’t remember a thing tomorrow and the questions asked in class will fly above his head, but he needs to stay awake. He yawns and pats his jaw, feeling his bones popping, and gets back to writing.
It’s past four when Taehyung falls asleep with his head nestled on his hands, still at the desk. His muscles are tensed and his back hurts, but he falls into a sleep so deep that his mind is blank for the most part of it. When he wakes up, his first instinct is to check his finger, but he shakes his head and takes a shower.
“You look like hell kid.”
Taehyung doesn’t clearly see the iPad he is holding and he blames it on the last week where he studied until he collapsed. Yet, it was a good week - one without dreams. He looks the grumpy man in the face and thinks for a moment that he is tired of calling him “grumpy man.”
“What can I get you today?”
“How about you and me go out tomorrow?”
Taehyung needs a few seconds to pull himself out of his stupor and when he does, Jeongguk is passing behind him and says: “Don’t ask him that. He will say next time.”
“Not a date. I just wanna give you some books. I’ve seen how you look at my books every time you pass by my table.”
“So...uhm…,” he doesn’t even have the strength to refuse so he opts for the safest route. “What can I get you tonight?”
“Get me a gin tonic this time. And think about it.”
Taehyung notes that down and scurries back to the bar, still thinking about the proposal. Tomorrow is a day without classes, nor work, and he decided that he wants to spend it binge-watching movies or catch up on some reading that’s not about Korean history. The prospect of him getting out of the house in the cold weather makes him want to hide under a tower of warm blankets.
“Am I allowed to go out with customers?”
Namjoon doesn’t look up from where he is washing some cocktail shakers, but the slight jump of his shoulders tells Taehyung he has been heard. He waits for the bartender to face him, while he sends the order on the bar computer.
Namjoon looks over his shoulder. “If they are creepy, don’t. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“He’s just grumpy. “
Namjoon laughs, dries his hands on a dishtowel and turns around. He reads the order, makes the drink and then hands it to Taehyung. “Then I think you should say yes. He’s okay.” There is again this look in Namjoon’s eyes that Taehyung can’t decipher, but he doesn’t fret too much about it. He takes the cool glass with two fingers, places it on his tray and goes back to the table.
“Where and what time?”
The grumpy man smiles up at him, eyes scrunching up and lips revealing a set of pink gums.
When Taehyung watched the man scribble the address on a piece of paper, he didn’t think it would take him straight to that pet shop from Hongdae that gave him nightmares. He loves to sleep. Sleep is good, but when his sleep is littered with white dreams and darkness instead of smiles, he just wants to stay awake for eternity.
The weather is harsh against his skin, autumn going on winter at full speed, sharp wind against his eyes and biting at his hands. They are red and itching, but he stuffs them deeper into his pockets. He looks up at the store’s windows, eyeing the cute puppy that he saw many weeks ago. He hates winter and he hates cute puppies that make him bump into strangers.
“This is ridiculous,” Taehyung mutters to himself as he rocks on his heels, still trying to convince himself to leave. There is nothing out there for him but crisp weather and people who wear scarves too large for their heads. There is nothing but a gray world around him and as Taehyung turns around, bored, he expects to see red spider lilies blooming on the pavement. But the pavement is gray as well and full of cracks.
“This is ridiculous,” he says for the second time, louder and he leaves. He turns his back to the pet shop and he decides that it’s high time to put behind him all the farce. Dreams are not real, they never were, and he’s not some goddamn fool to believe in fairytales.
He pulls his hands out of his pockets, ready to press the button for the crossing when someone says his name in a rather loud voice. He turns, not phased that the grumpy man took his time to arrive at their meeting place, but if he brought some books, then, he could forgive this one time. Yet, there are no books in the man’s hands. He holds nothing but a smug smile on his face.
Taehyung opens his mouth to protest, to say something about how his grumpy ass doesn’t know him at all when something jumps in front of him. He yelps and closes his eyes, afraid he might collide with the stranger, but nothing happens. Something warms engulfs his hands. Something warm and soft and too surreal to be true, linking between his fingers and he feels like crying for no reason. His chest heaves and he bites his lips to stop the tremor in his blood, and he opens his eyes.
The weather is unforgiving and unwelcoming. There is no sun up in the sky and there is no trace of the blue sky, just a thick blanket made out of clouds full of rain. The sun is not up, but rather is in front of Taehyung, in the form of a smaller boy, all tousled dark hair, crescent moons instead of eyes and a smile that makes Taehyung’s insides melt. Breath catches in his throat as he roams his eyes over the planes of the boy’s face, and he is too afraid to touch. He will disappear. He is sure of it. This is a dream. This must be a dream.
Taehyung gulps and squeezes his hands, only to get the same pressure back. He looks at their entangled fingers and indeed, his hands are bigger.
The boy beams at him and his eyes disappear.
“My name is Park Jimin. I’m 21 years old. I’m from Busan, but I live in Seoul now, because of college. And--”
He takes a deep breath, eyes never leaving Taehyung.
“I’ve finally found you, Taehyung-ah.”