Sun streamed in from the window onto the faded wooden floors of the small attic in the pale blue house that was set too far from the road. The placid sounds that existed only within those sweet, sleepy summer months floated in the air, lulling the lone boy lying on the floor close to the precipice of unconsciousness, the rays warming his skin.
Jongsuk rolled to his side, turning towards the window, comforted by the waving leaves of the tall tree outside and the bright blue sky. He like the summer, when he could be alone but not feel lonely; wrapped in the hazy summer days, and the cool summer night breeze caressing his skin, he could easily fall into its embrace and not think about anything else.
He liked that.
Two, he had had already, on the way to pick up a simple list of groceries for his halmeoni.
And now he was craving a third. Jongsuk knew this corner store was the only one that always had his favorite flavor; being so small, not many came here. He paid the cashier for his halmeoni’s five items – and his icee before going to retrieve it from the little freezer near the back.
Ah, there were four.
Maybe he should pay for another, he thought, as his hands reached inside, the cold feeling nice against his skin.
Even that simple thought slowed him down just a millisecond as long arms appeared from nowhere and grabbed all four. Jongsuk blinked, bemused, turning to see some tall kid place five dollars on the counter, running to join two other boys outside. He tossed one to each and kept two.
Two for himself.
Jongsuk left without taking anything.
The fourth step from the top was never your ally when trying to sneak up or down stairs – only if you forgot about it.
But who’s gonna remember the creaky fourth step from the top when the house was bathed in sunlight; who thinks about how their halmeoni’s nosy friends visit every Tuesday when you’re blasting great music from your expensive headphones…
Too late, when Jongsuk noticed the pile of purses on the chair at the base of the stairs, his foot already on that fourth step, announcing his arrival.
No turning back now.
He was forced into the pit
Aggressive hair ruffle
Touchy feely hands everywhere
Jongsuk managed to escape on his own from the ahjumma pit unscathed, letting out a sigh of relief as he entered the kitchen, their chatter fading behind the door like the echo of an indestructible beast one was lucky enough to survive, in some far off castle.
The ahjumma pit was no joke.
Jongsuk stuck his head in the fridge looking for leftovers, when he caught the pungent smell of cigarette smoke wafting into the kitchen. He crinkled his nose, at the odor and in confusion.
One of their husbands? They were never brought here. This is where they were complained about…
Jongsuk opened the screen door just enough to peek his head out of the back door. Long arms resting on the knees of long legs, a cigarette stuck between two fingers like he was born with it.
He knew those arms. He recognized the scar on the right shoulder.
Unable to see his face from this angle, Jongsuk openly admired the smooth, slightly tanned skin for a bit –for all of 10 seconds; it isn’t that nice- before ducking back in only to be pushed out.
‘Sukkie, were you going out to meet my Hyunjoong?’
The other boy turned towards them, seemingly unsurprised by the sudden intrusion, nonchalance, almost boredom, showing on his face. The ahjumma beamed at both of them.
‘He’s going to college here in the Fall, so he came to spend the rest of the summer with me,’
‘….oh’ then how’d he make friends so fast
‘I think you’re both going to the same school- isn’t that lucky?’
‘I’ll let you guys talk,’ she ruffled Jongsuk’s hair, all to glad to leave them alone. Her departure so abrupt it was like she was never there in the first place.
Jongsuk whirled around but she was gone, the screen door slamming hard behind him – Twap! Sorry kid! TWAP! You’re stuck here!
Slowly turning, he saw Hyunjoong watching him idly, the cigarette now gone.
‘You can call me Woobin instead… ‘
Jongsuk’s face caught fire, the smirk the stupid nickname coated in such a thick voice …
And that was that.
They didn’t hang out every day, or much, really. That kind of thing was awkward when a “friendship” was heaped on to you rather than it coming naturally.
So, no, they didn’t hang out.
‘My birthday’s coming up so…’
Woobin had mentioned it so casually. His cousin and his cousin’s friends –his friends too, obviously; why label them that way– were taking him out; did he want to come?
His tone made it seem like he didn’t want Jongsuk to say yes, and truthfully, Jongsuk hadn’t wanted to, but…
Well he wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t want me to come.
Maybe Woobin didn’t want his grandmother to mention to it.
Pft! I’m going whether he wants me to or not. …whether I want to or not.
Still… his thumb hovered over Woobin’s name (‘greedy bastard’) on his phone’s screen.
Jongsuk would never admit he was a lightweight.
Actually, Jongsuk never even knew he was a lightweight (but if he did he wouldn’t have said).
But he was.
He laughed a little too loud, and told corny jokes, and slung his arms around Woobin’s neck –like real friends- as they all walked around downtown and guffawed at nothing and everything; the bright lights, crowds of people, sweet humid night air swallowing them up.
Jongsuk watched Woobin from his position on the floor in the attic, who was reading a book about something, Jongsuk hadn’t paid attention when he told him.
He tried to be subtle, but he was never good at that…
Woobin looked up and stared until Jongsuk couldn’t stand it.
‘Nothing! Aiish!’ he threw an old couch cushion at Woobin as he abruptly turned on his side, hitting the back wall instead.
Jongsuk screamed out in surprise as sharp knuckles roughly chafed his scalp, Woobin’s weight pressing down on him.
‘What is it, you punk!’
Jongsuk flapped his body around trying to get away, all the while insisting on being annoyed.
‘JangeoSuk!’ Woobin laughed at him as he flopped away.
He was able to stare undisturbed that night when they were so both supposed to be sleeping. They did nothing all day, how was he even tired?
‘Go to sleep Jongsuk…’
Woobin’s low voice froze Jongusuk momentarily before he relaxed, hesitating before stiffly laying his head on the other boy’s shoulder, the tension slowly seeping from his body as Woobin slid his hand into his hair.
The days were long long long, but they were going by fast. Summer was almost over. They both began college at the end of the month.
Jongsuk didn’t even know when he began to feel nervous; or maybe he always had been – hiding away right below the surface of contentment that had spread and congealed and crusted over but there was a little hole somewhere for that nervousness to peek through, spring up, bloom, spread until Jongsuk was suffocated with the thought.
Where to find the balance between too much and far too little.
He wanted Woobin always, but he wished Woobin would just throw him away already.
Woobin was staying over again.
They started classes on Monday, so why not?
His halmeoni had bought them both sets of new clothes, and backpacks, and notebooks and pencils and pens and they felt like they were going to first grade instead.
Jongsuk tried not to cling too hard in his sleep.