Maybe, just maybe, there was something taboo about trying to pick up—ahem, ask out—someone during their birthday celebration.
In Andrew’s defence, it wasn’t the date of the actual birthday! It was the day after. He’d been sitting on this for months now. Years of friendship, of dancing circles around growing feelings, hopeless pining; and now, finally, he’d gathered up the courage to change the terms of their relationship!
It would be grand, dramatic, and as follows:
- He’d take him out to lunch.
- Suavely, he would woo his date, over his careful choice of restaurant and cuisine. (Western, nothing too spicy.)
- After a romantic meal, they would walk down the street to the bookstore–the huge one, two stories (ha!) and a whole building to itself.
- Then it’d be a train ride over to his family’s shop to grab dinner, then a beautiful hiking trail at sunset.
- Then, and only then, on a picnic spread atop the hill, would Andrew present his birthday present.
- Finally, formally: he would confess to Jin.
Andrew had staked out each area on Google Maps, had taken a train from school to walk the whole route up and down himself, had called up the restaurant way in advance, and had even checked the weather forecast. He’d arranged this all in a word document, sent it to Jin’s parents and Kristen, and made himself as presentable as possible for an attached selfie, kind of like a, Hey! This is me, just in case this elaborate date seems like an even more elaborate kidnapping scheme. Not that he’s never met them. He’s seen them plenty, and he thinks he’s left a good impression thus far, but—just in case. One could never be too cautious.
Kristen had sent back a voice message of her guffawing loudly, and through tears and gasps, called it the “Woo-ing Plan”, since (haha) his name was Jin Woo. Andrew wanted to slam his—or maybe her—head into a wall.
List after list had been scribbled on paper and on the lit screen of this laptop, late into the night and into the peak of dawn. Plan after plan had been deliberated upon and then discarded. Sticky notes and notebook paper that could be mistaken for the ramblings of a man gone mad littered his table.
Jin deserved nothing less than the best. Andrew would be damned if he didn’t shoot his shot—and what a shot it would be.
So he counted down the days. Both caught in the midst of project and assessment week, sleeping a couple of hours less each day, he found time sometimes dripping viscous and sometimes all-too-suddenly slipping through his fingers.
Saturday came around. Anxious, Andrew rushed chores at home during the day, and waited with friends as the clock struck twelve at night. They caused a racket over the video call, a chorus of “happy birthday!”s ringing through the world itself. He imagined the warmth from the group jumping kilometres, over oceans and land, through underground cables, through the screen and onto Jin’s face, glowing with joy, pixel-perfection.
Sunday was spent helping out at the store. Andrew hauled clothes from the washer to the dryer, from the dryer to the ironing board. Sundays were always busy. Next door, he inhaled a chicken sandwich—an utterly graceless affair—checking his phone as he went. Jin was with his family, and Andrew’s heart warmed at the pictures Jin sent to him (just him)! He slept early for the first time since the midterm break started, heart thumping in his chest.
Monday startled into action.
Or, well, it should have.
Inexplicably, Andrew woke at the crack of dawn, and deciding that it was far too early for anything productive, went back to bed.
It stunned him, in foresight, just how stupid he could be.
At eleven-thirty a.m., he fumbled for his phone, checked the time, and jolted out of bed. He’d dashed around the bathroom, hurriedly pulling on presentable clothes. He popped gum into his mouth as he cursed himself, his phone, and the alarms he totally set that didn’t go off (read: that he slept through).
He checked his phone again, swiping through notifications—messages from Jin!
Andrew thought he might die.
Hey, I’m so sorry! I overslept, but I should make it to the stop at 12:05 or so?
I’m so so sorry 😭😭😭…
Sighing, he swiped back to the map on his phone, slinging a bag over his shoulder and locking the door.
Eleven forty-seven …
If he got a Grab, it’d take around 10 minutes to reach him, but would take only 7 to get him to the train station.
If he walked, it’d take him 20 minutes.
But if he sprinted the whole way …
The sun bore down on Andrew’s back like an overbearing parent; sweat beaded high on his brow and gathered to slide down his neck. What are you doing, boy? It sneered down at him, glowering, uncomfortable. He swiped a hand past his brow, gasping for breath.
Who was he kidding? He wasn’t an athlete. He barely made it up four flights of stairs before panting.
“Turn left now. Turn left now. Turn left now!” Google Maps chimed at him incessantly, oblivious to the mounting rage in the boy.
Another car zoomed by—what happened to pedestrians having the way of the road?
After many a harrowing experience, at 12:03, Andrew reached the train station. He checked his phone again, having ignored it while running across multiple roads definitely not built for human traffic. Jin had texted him an I’m here! with confetti emojis and everything, as well as reassurances that it was fine, he wasn’t late, and that he’ll meet him …
A pair of hands clapped over his eyes as it took everything in him not to screech.
“Me!” Jin said, endearing, a fond smile creeping unwillingly onto Andrew’s face. “I thought you’d recognize me by now.”
“Weird…I don’t seem to recall befriending an idiot.” He didn’t mean it, of course (he never did), but the pout he was rewarded with would keep him teasing for centuries to come.
“And you’re sweaty,” Jin complained. “I thought it’d be cute to scare you, but I’ve come away from this—” He wiped his hands on his shirt, pulling a face. “—the sticky-fingered fool, and none the wiser.”
Andrew laughed, hoping the burning in his cheeks could be brushed off as physical exertion.
“Anyway … happy birthday, dude. Ready for lunch?”
“I am always ready for food, baby! Where are we going?”
His heart stuttered once more, and Andrew hoped it wouldn’t give up on him by the end of the day.
The restaurant was gorgeous, and thankfully, just as awe-spiring as Andrew had hoped it’d be. The Glass Window glittered in the afternoon light. Water cascaded down glass roofs—on the technical side, something about cooling it all down—on the aesthetic side, it cast a shimmering shadow onto the entrance. Jin let out a low whistle.
“We can–we can just go in, since I have a reservation, so…” Jin trailed behind him into the restaurant. A beaming server seated them, and Jin was laughing, cracking jokes, making comments about the people, the tables, and the vines on the walls.
Opposite him, Andrew pondered on how to proceed (a numbered list) behind the shield of a menu.
- Order food.
- Wait for food.
- Eat food.
- Make it the most memorable lunch he’s ever had.
Note: Pay for lunch, obviously.
He sneaked a peek at Jin, flipping through the menu. He’d read somewhere that putting your phone on the table could signal disinterest, and discreetly, he slipped it into his bag. Jin beamed back at him, and caught in the full glare of the sun and other blinding objects, Andrew could only smile.
They ordered their food. (Spaghetti and a chicken chop.)
Andrew asked about school, and immediately, Jin’s eyes lit up—something about his classmate (the snarky one), his teacher (the scary one), his homework (the psychology ones), the event they had recently (fundraiser), and oh my God, did you know …
He rested his chin on his palm, taking it all in. He thought offhandedly of the sweat cooling in his hair, of the way Jin’s looked soft, deceptively fluffy, always wonderful to run his fingers through. It always smelled good, too, and Jin would just let him do it when they were together.
Their food came, Jin snapping Instagrammable pictures. Andrew fancied it was pictures of him now and then, but he wouldn’t know. He didn’t use Instagram.
“Alright! Andrew 吃!” Jin said finally, tucking his phone away. “Anyway, how have you been? Sorry, I just kept going. How’s your class? You guys just did a report, right? For bio?”
Andrew briefly considered taking his hand and telling him to never worry about talking too much. His voice was but a balm to the sorest of hearts, a soothing melody for the most sensitive of ears. Andrew would follow him to the ends of the earth blind, with nothing but his voice leading him.
He didn’t. “Yeah. It sucked, honestly. I have these groupmates …”
Slowly, surely, Andrew began talking about his (rather mundane) life. Even though they went to the same college, their programmes were different and arranged to have schedules that came thirty minutes apart. Realistically, this was so canteens and classrooms wouldn’t be chock-full of students all the time. Unrealistically, Andrew thought it was specifically to antagonise his and Jin’s relationship. They hardly had time to see each other — some days, Andrew’s class would end early, and he’d find himself running to Jin’s classroom to wave from outside the window. Sometimes he’d catch him for a minute before walking to the next class. Kristen had called it “down bad, down astronomical, I’m throwing tomatoes at you, get out of here.”
In the present, Jin slurped at his spaghetti, making mmhms and uh-huhs as Andrew recounted his experiences in the bio lab, at the laundromat, and during the exams. He was sure it was boring, not date topics. (He had looked up appropriate date topics online, but he wasn’t sure how to bring them up. Are there date topics for someone who already knows all about you?) The more he talked, however, the less it mattered. Around him—around them—the world narrowed to a point, cutlery clinking and the cacophony of chatter fading away.
For a long moment, Andrew’s focus was pinned solely on Jin, halfway through a cackle at something that he barely even remembered saying. His eyes crinkled near shut, bleach-blonde hair shining in the light, a halo around his head — the most cliched of comparisons, the metaphor most fitting for the boy. This must be it, he thought, entranced. A pasta-eating angel.
Time whirred back to life. He schooled his expression to something less-infatuated, in love, dreamy, to simply something less, something that wouldn’t betray his emotions or set his heart on a platter. Jin didn’t notice, never seemed to fully catch onto the hopelessly romantic fantasies Andrew caught by butterfly net.
Lunch ended too quick, too soon. As they stood at the counter, Jin had begun to fumble in his pocket before Andrew stared him down. It was meant to be intimidating, but he found it far too easy to get lost in the many shades of copper-gold Jin’s eyes featured. It worked, anyway, and he stepped back as Andrew paid the bill, silently thanking his parents for the extra allowance he’d been given on account of working a full Sunday (and, with sneaking suspicion, in silent support of his romantic pursuit).
They stepped out to the street, walking a little way from the café. Immediately the heat of the afternoon came back in full force, uncomfortable warmth wrapping around his back. Jin came soon after, patting his stomach, thanking him for the meal, it was wonderful, take me out more?
“Don’t mention it.” Andrew burned red and pulled his phone out of his pocket. The meal had gone … well? He didn’t think he had wooed Jin just yet. Jin Woo’nt. It was no matter — they had hours to kill and (some) money to spend, and Andrew had a pretty clear idea of their next move in mind. “How do you feel about a bookstore?”
“Shit, for real? Of course.”
Andrew, for the lack of anything better to say, nodded and started down the path. Jin strode alongside him, a stream of gossip and chatter at the ready. They made their way across the street, down the road. Andrew itched to hold Jin’s hand — an action familiar with younger cousins, yet unfamiliar in the context of his best friend. He reasoned that people held hands platonically all the time and that doing so with less-than-platonic intentions wouldn’t give him away, or ruin the date—day. The day.
Ultimately, his fingers found themselves nipping at lint-lined pockets.
“Andrew, buddy, I think this is closed.”
“… What?” Andrew looked back at Jin, who was squinting at his phone. “It’s not.” For extra effect, “Idiot.”
“No, like, actually, Google says it’s closed.”
“What?” That couldn’t be true. He …
He checked, right?
He had checked when they were open, right?
“Oh my God,” Andrew said, coming to a stop. Google, did, in fact, say it was closed. “No way.”
“I mean, maybe Google’s wrong, right? All my homies hate Google. I hate Google.”
Andrew barely processed the words as he rounded the corner, to where the bookstore should be.
“You have reached your destination!” Google Maps, cheerful as ever.
Jin clapped his shoulder. The bookstore was there, and was, in fact, closed. All two stories lay dark, the café shuttered close. Andrew slumped into a metal seat, hands over his face.
How on Earth did he forget to check if it was open???
“Hey, man, it’s okay! Maybe they had an emergency?”
Andrew pulled a face beneath his fingers. A terrible memory had resurfaced — him, scrolling through the website, checking their opening times, barely catching a glimpse of the opening days before closing the tab.
They’ll probably close Sundays.
He opened Google. He typed in the name of the bookstore.
Closed, as expected, and when expanded, Closed Mondays, open literally any other day.
He let out a muffled scream into his palm. Real good job, Casanova. Really going in with that excellent planning there, doofus.
Jin, the object of his affections, the love of his life, had sat on the seat next to him. With Andrew’s luck, he half expected to have sat on bird shit. Today was—not good. Not very good at all. Things were not going very well. Lunch he had survived, and now, the Gods had cast judgement against his folly, and he was never going to produce a perfect plan, and Jin was not going to get his perfect post-birthday celebration —
“I mean … it’s fine. Who cares about some dumb,” Jin looked back at the store. “Some dumb BookXcess anyway?”
“You do,” Andrew cried, exasperated. “You would have cared about this dumb BookXcess, Jin.”
Jin smiled, lopsided. “Truly a shame, then, that this place will crumble away into dust by tomorrow.”
“But it’s–it’s just … it would have been so good, today. We have three hours here. It’s one-thirty!” Andrew grit his teeth, knuckling frustration out of his eyes. How childish, he thought, even as panic welled up in his throat. “I don’t know what we’ll do for three hours.”
Jin pried his hands away from his face, squatting in front of his hunched figure. Andrew looked him in the eye, shame eating him alive.
“It’s fine, okay? I really, really, do not care about some bookstore open any other day. We can do so much other stuff.” He gestured around them, to … to the tables, to the chairs, to fallen leaves, to the many stores across the road. “We can go window shopping, we can walk, and if we get tired, we can go to a cafe, right?”
Andrew mumbled agreement, miserably. This is immature, a voice in his head chided. Do you really think Jin wants to sit here with you like this?
“You get so caught up in these things. Sometimes.” Jin had sat back on his haunches, tugging absentmindedly on his hoodie strings, staring into the distance. “When you’re ready to go, we can go.”
Maybe he doesn’t mind sitting here, Andrew thought back. Maybe he understands the desperation I feel for perfecting this for him.
He gave himself a few more seconds. “Okay.” Andrew stood up, a little too quickly, and stumbled back against the table. Jin fell on his ass, startled. He let out a laugh, and Andrew managed an awkward ha-ha.
“Yeah. We’ll go. I’m–” He pulled Jin to his feet. “–sorry, for being emo on your post-birthday.”
“Forgiven.” Jin wasn’t letting go of his hand. Why wasn’t he letting go? “Buy me boba?”
“Boba,” he repeated, and Jin leaned in, squeezing his hand gently. He couldn’t bear to look at him now, a little too close and a little too far from what he was used to. “Boba. Yeah, okay–”
“Boba deez nuts, lmao,” Jin yelled, actually saying “leh-mao”, before taking off running. “You’ll never catch me. You’ll NEVER catch me.”
Andrew wobbled on his feet, feeling a little like a sock in a washing machine.
Well. That was alright. Things were—okay. Not completely ruined.
He broke into a sprint for the second time that day, heart thumping.
Andrew did, of course, catch up to Jin. They had walked slowly along the street, little bits and pieces of conversation breaking out between ducking into stores and stopping to tie Jin’s shoelaces (Andrew was tempted to bend down and do it himself, honestly, and not even for any romantic reason. He needed Jin to learn double knots).
During a lull in the conversation, Jin pulled away abruptly, attention ensnared by a large group of umbrellas — a bazaar of some sort. He eagerly joined the crowd of meandering customers, Andrew following close behind, gripping onto the edge of his sleeve. To not lose him in the crowd, obviously. Jin turned back, grinning and grabbing his hand, before turning back around. Red bloomed under his skin, ears tinging pink.
They picked their way from stall to stall, each boasting cheap clothes, bags, toys, and snacks. More often than not, the sweet scent of burnt sugar or a lick of salty, greasy goodness could be just about picked up, overpowering the collective stench of many, many, sweaty people. Despite the fact that they had just eaten, the food smelled amazing. They breezed past a flower vendor, a clothes seller, peanut pancakes, and a multitude of absolutely hideous, knock-off merchandise hoping to ride the coattails of Disney fame. He had done his best to avoid eye contact so far, staring straight ahead at the back of a certain blonde. Jin was wearing a crop-top hoodie over a shirt. Absolutely insane and impractical for Malaysian weather, yet … he felt something fond twinge in his chest.
Jin turned down an alley, suddenly, to a small stall. A single woman sat behind it, some EDM remix of a song that really shouldn’t have been EDM’d blasting from a Bluetooth radio. Her wares: sticks of grapes, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries, all coated in sugar. Tanghulu, he thought. He’d tried to make them once, and ended up having to scrape burnt sugar off the pan for a good hour. The woman smiled crooked at them as she gestured towards a sign made in marker.
“Do you want some?” He asked, glancing at Jin. The sign boasted a mere RM12 per strawberry stick, which wasn’t “mere” at all, to be honest. He did the math — over a ringgit per strawberry. Jin seemed to be doing the same, face scrunched.
“I mean, kind of? I’ve … never had it.” Jin stared at the sweets. He–he definitely wanted some. “Do you want some?”
Cute, Andrew thinks, and sure, he says, and barely feels foolish as he forks over a good twenty-three ringgit for the overpriced candy. Tomatoes for him. Jin flushes ever so slightly, quiet and flattered as he’s handed a stick. It’s endearing, it’s Jin quiet, thoughtful and happy.
Andrew bites through the sugar shell, tomato exploding in his mouth. It’s good, sweet, and he loves tomatoes.
Jin bites on his strawberry, making a face when the hard sugar cracks loudly in his mouth.
“Yeah,” He says, cheek puffed as he manoeuvres the broken sugar shards to one side. “I dunno why I’ve never had this sooner.” It’s because you eat too much junk, dumbass, and I burnt it bitter every time I tried to make it for you.
“Yeah, who knows.”
The rest of the afternoon goes fine, all things considered. It’s fine. They made it to the station at four-thirty, right on time, and now they were sitting on the train as it rumbled along. Andrew eyed the blinking map. Nine more stations.
Earlier, against Andrew’s better judgement, Jin had bought a Minion patterned Hawaiian shirt.
(“It’s camp. I swear. You have like, no taste, this is peak camp.”
“This is ass, Jin.”)
Hoodie bundled into his bag, Andrew now had to walk around with a minion-themed idiot. They did, eventually, get pearl milk tea. He ordered an extra-large drink, and Jin wriggled his brow as he pulled two straws from the stack with a flourish. They drank from different straws, and Andrew found it shameful when he hoped, secretly, that they mixed the straws up.
Get a grip, a voice in his head chastised.
Andrew shut his eyes and leaned again his seat — he had to revise his list.
Lunch. Wooing Jin. Bookstore.
- Train ride home and consequently, picking up sandwiches from the store.
- A really short hiking trail.
- A romantic confession and birthday gift-giving.
He cracked open an eye, watching Jin curled into the corner next to him, on his phone. Closing his eyes, he half expected to see the bright teal imprint of the boy burned into his vision — he wouldn’t mind it.
He checked his own phone, sending a text to Mr Lee, or just Boss. The sandwich shop owner was middle-aged and spindly, often towering over Andrew and smelling of bread. He shared the shop lot with their family, an agreement older than Andrew was. Between businessmen getting pressed suits and a to-go lunch, and Andrew having warm memories of PB&Js every morning before school, it was a good arrangement. The man had practically become his third parent — and it definitely helped that his “roommate” often came by to help with work, and that he’d been treated to turkey breast sandwiches and a big hug on multiple occasions, and on one of those occasions he was the first person Andrew had come out to.
Boss left his messages on delivered, and Andrew put his phone away, head buzzing with anxiety. He had agreed to make them sandwiches (for free, but Andrew would force him the money). After explaining his plan, Boss had laughed and told him: “You know, when I was your age, I was still dating a woman!” He received a quick smack from his boyfriend before both agreed to be his litmus test.
He felt a little guilty, maybe, about needing to test Jin to be sure. For his insecurities. Kristen had complained, “That boy is so fruity he’s in smoothies. He doesn’t even walk straight. (That was mean. Jin had back issues.) He’s so not homophobic.” Andrew agreed, but … still.
Weight goes on his shoulder and all voices in his head shut up at once.
Andrew cranes his neck to look at the top of his hair, connected to the head very much stuck into the crook of his neck.
“I’m tiiired, Andrew.” He sat stock still. Jin’s thighs are pressing against his, Jin’s arms are snug against his side, totalling in too much body-on-body contact Andrew wasn’t equipped to deal with.
“Oh,” he said, eloquent.
“Lemme sleep until our stop,” Jin yawns, actually yawns, and Andrew subtly-not-so-subtly droops in his chair to lessen the incline of Jin’s neck. “Wake me up when we reach.”
And like that, he goes silent, and Andrew is left to deal with the complete panic and terror that sweeps through him. He doesn’t even dare to move his right arm, truly bought into the idea that a twitch would bring great discomfort. He shifts the phone to his left, typing slowly, anxiously, to Kristen.
Kristen, godsend that she is, responds quick.
did u fart on him lol
He takes it back.
awww u guys r so cute
No, Im going to die
He just did this. What do I do?
why r u asking me
also im doing the genshin abyss rn so ttyl when u actually hv an problem ok bye <3
u got this tho
Andrew swipes away before he throws his phone, which would be bad, and worse yet, might wake up Jin. He goes, as you do, to Twitter. Not to, like, tweet, but to scroll mindlessly past video game news, funny tweets, and his friend’s occasional self-promos. He gets comfortable with the hard plastic of the train. It’s not too bad, really, because for all that Jin’s touch electrifies him, it’s comforting, and he’s nice and warm and Andrew is more than a little infatuated.
The map winks back at him. 6 stations to go.
Andrew pointed to the laundromat. “Okay, so, my parents are probably out, but if we run into them, just say hi.” He pointed to the other half of the store. “Then we excuse ourselves and get food.”
“Sir-yes-sir!” Jin saluted him. “To be clear, sir, we avoid your parents, we grab sandwiches from Boss, and then we go hiking up a hill.”
“Yeah–” Andrew frowned. “Stop calling me sir, though?”
Whatever. Andrew was in spirits too high to truly bother — he hoped Boss and his “friend” wouldn’t find it weird, even though he didn’t think Jin would truly keep it up through meeting who was practically Dad #2 and #3. Even though Dad #1 had mixed feelings about having competition for father figures in his son’s life. Mom (#1 by default) remained smug.
They crossed the street to the store, and Andrew couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Jin was finally getting another foot into his life.
Boss crushed a cigarette into a tray when he saw them, a wide grin splitting his face. He’d always had smile lines, tell-tale wrinkles of chain-smiling.
“Andrew, my boy! And you are … Jin, his boy?”
Andrew spluttered on a greeting.
“Yes, Boss! Nice to meet you.” Andrew watched in slow-motion horror as Jin shook Boss’ hand, struck belatedly with the realisation that he’d made a mistake.
Subtle! Subtle litmus testing! Not implying he’s my boyfriend! Could blushing too much rupture the blood vessels in the face? Andrew pictured it briefly. He’d be stained crimson and webbed for ages — telangiectasia caused by an excess of shame.
Drawn back to the present, Andrew tampered down his dismay, deep into his stomach. Screw the litmus test.
“Yes, hello, Boss. This is my friend, Jin, who is coming with me. To get sandwiches.” Where was Uncle Arlo, anyway?
“Yes, of course, Andrew. Give us a few.” He held up a finger, turning away from the railing to open the door to the sandwich shop. “You and your friend should come in first! It’s a pleasure to finally meet Jin in person.” He winked at Jin, who puffed his chest out proudly — still, mind you, in stupid Minions merch. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Andrew fought the urge to whine a petulant nooooooo as they followed Boss in.
Seated, Boss and Jin hit it off immediately. Andrew fidgets with a loose thread in the cushion cover (hand-sewn by Arlo himself) and tries not to think too much about being a third party in a conversation about him. Halfway through, he exclaims that he’s going to go to the kitchen, and walks stiffly away. It’s not–he hopes he doesn’t come off as rude, exactly, it’s just awkward. He’s glad they’re getting along. Boss’ gaydar has been in action for much longer than his, and they like each other, which is really, really good. They’re some of the people closest to him, and it warms him to the tip of his fingers that they’re on good terms — for now.
Arlo looks up from wrapping paper to greet him, an easygoing grin on his face. Andrew smiled back, a little less queasy.
“Hey, Uncle.” He shuffles over to the workstation, taking a deep breath. Sandwiches have always been his comfort food — very European of him, he knows, but there’s no better smell than home. Or his second home, or whatever niche this place falls into. Arlo peels off his gloves and grabs a marker pen.
“This is for you,” he says, scrawling Andrew across one. “And this is for Jin.” Jin, he writes, a heart on the I.
“That’s so–my God,” Andrew groans. The teasing never stops, does it? “We don’t know if he’s actually into me or anything, Uncle. This is so cheesy.”
“Andrew, you asked for extra cheese, no?” Arlo frowned down at the sandwiches. “The beef one has extra pickles, too.”
“Well, yeah, but–that’s a different cheese,” he trailed off, somewhat sheepish. Arlo packed the sandwiches into a paper bag, pushing it towards him. “Thank you, Arlo.”
“Of course, little man. This is one of the smaller things that we can do for you.” He squeezed his shoulder. “You know, when I first asked Lee out …”
They were interrupted by a loud holler—Lee—asking what the delay was.
“Ah, never mind,” Arlo chuckled. “The serviettes are in the drawer, Andrew, and we have some Sprite in the fridge for you.”
“Thank you,” Andrew said again, crinkling the bag slightly. Arlo wiped his hands on a towel around his neck, clapping a hand on his back, leaning down to eye-level. Not that he did more than awkwardly squat a little, but the other man often felt larger than life, and Andrew appreciated the gesture.
“You’ve got this, little man.”
“I’ve got this,” He breathed. “Thanks, again.”
“You are polite too much,” Arlo laughed, pushing the curtain separating the kitchen and dining area aside.
Andrew followed once more.
Jin beamed at him as they stopped by the laundromat. “Just a second, okay! I gotta grab something.”
Andrew fumbled with the lock to the house; the stupid thing was rusted on the inside, and needed to be tilted just so to get through. They always talked of replacing it — muffled curses were almost always a tell-tale sign to unlock the front door for family. He got through with a click.
The house was dark, light just about filtering through. It was getting late — sunset would come soon, and they still needed to get up the hill. The litmus test was a success, probably, judging by Boss and Uncle Arlo’s big thumbs up and matching smiles.
From under his bed, Andrew pulled out a paper bag. It had Chompers emblazoned across it, one that he made sure to keep clean from sandwich residue. He ripped the bag off, inspecting the (admittedly shoddily) wrapped gift. The paper was brown, like old-fashioned parcels, and he’d wrapped it in white twine around, across, a pair of neat bunny ears sitting front and centre. It was dust-free, thanks to the sacrificial bag. Was it small enough to fit in Jin’s bag? He shook it, contents rustling faintly.
He wasn’t going to not give it to him, anyway.
He tucked it into his backpack and left the room, checking his reflection as he went.
Jin was squatting a few steps away where he’d left him, videoing a sleeping cat. Andrew dropped next to him.
“That’s Tessie,” he whispered. “She’s a neighbourhood stray that everyone feeds.”
“I can tell,” Jin said, amused. Andrew supposed he could see why — Tessie was seriously nearing obese, her rotund body slumped into the little cat bed (a car tyre stuffed with blankets), limbs splayed ungraceful and carefree. She purred in her sleep, and Andrew swore he saw her belly rippling.
Satisfied, Jin stopped the video, and Andrew watched as it went to his story, bright green around his profile picture.
“Whew. Maybe I should take a layer off,” Jin said, heaving a breath as he rested against a tree.
“The Minions shirt would be good,” Andrew suggested helpfully (hopefully).
Andrew sighed. He did try. They’d struggled up the hill, up a littered dirt path. Some kind soul had hacked a way up the hill, and countless health nuts had cleared the ground relatively free of debris. He thought of The Road Not Taken, a poem they’d analysed in English Lit. This was definitely The Only Road Taken, in leaves many steps had trodden black. Andrew’s parents had dragged him up on many an occasion, something about fitness, and exercise, and that he couldn’t be in his room forever. He’d objected until he caught the full glow of the evening once. He’d then begrudgingly went up the trail a bit more frequently, but only to learn the route.
“Hey, there’s a pondok here!” Jin stepped off the path, onto a little hut, furnished with little concrete chairs and a table. Andrew wrinkled his nose, about to tell him to continue walking—
Thunder cut him off, right as he opened his mouth.
He didn’t quite register it at first, preoccupied with getting Jin off the undoubtedly bird shit-covered stone.
Then it boomed loud once more, almost as if to make itself known.
Andrew shielded his eyes as he squinted into the grey, grey sky. It was blistering hot all day, he griped. You do not get to rain on my sunset.
Thunder and lightning cackled across the sky in reply, and Andrew thought distinctly of old-school Disney bullies: obnoxious, unreasonable, and oddly homophobic. Please, God, no. As if on cue, a raindrop comes falling, then another, and more yet come plop-plop-ing down, taking Andrew’s romantic sunset with it.
If he were a more dramatic man, he might have fallen to his knees.
“Wow,” Jin says, eyes wide as he stares at the sudden rain. “Precipitation strikes again.”
Andrew shakes a fist at the sky as it continues to pour, laughing. Curses be upon thy weather! Upon thy useless meteorology! Upon thy romantic sunset dates!
“C’mere, dude, you’re going to get drenched.” Andrew retreats, sulking, to the cover of the hut, where Jin kicks his feet on the bench.
“M’ sorry,” he mumbles, face in his hands. He was right — the table was kind of disgusting. There are little shot glasses, which, why anyone would trek up here to drink, he couldn’t guess. Burnt-out cigarettes lie on the table. Jin seems oblivious to it all — purposely so, probably.
“Sorry for the rain?” Jin says, mirth in the valleys and mountains of his voice.
“I promised you a sunset dinner,” Andrew replies, mournful. “Now we get to sit in the middle of … this.”
“Truly a shame, then,” Jin starts, a smile creeping into his voice. “That this is the last day the sun sets.”
Andrew holds his tongue. Jin keeps the same placid smile, kicking his feet off the concrete every now and then.
“I just–wanted this to be perfect.” His tone went whiny, and Andrew doesn’t look at him, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on his bag as he unzips it.
“Jin, I …” He cuts himself off, unsure again, nerves running unchecked. Does he need to do this? The day had–objectively, it had been fun so far, and if he got rejected, if he read all signs wrong … Jin had enjoyed himself. Andrew ran through his list, out of sorts, out of order, strikethroughs and hastily changed plans.
Jin, present, waited for him to finish.
“Here you go,” he says, passing over the gift. “I–got this for you, and I planned to give it at the, like, peak of the sunset, but since we’ll be here it doesn’t matter anyway.”
“I’m sure our setting could be better,” Jin says, gift in hand. “Can I shake this?”
Andrew suppresses a sigh–of course, that’d be the first question. He knew that would be the first question. “Yeah.”
Jin shakes the box. Paper–paper confetti, actually–rustles, and Jin cocks an eyebrow.
“I’ve always wanted a shredded book for my birthday, you know.” He tugs on the string, marvelling as it comes quickly untied.
“Just open it.”
Jin is careful not to tear the wrapper as he goes, peeling tape methodically off each fold. Andrew stifles a laugh when Jin comes to a great rip in the paper anyway, and Jin rolls his eyes, tearing through the rest of the paper. “It’s a box!”
Andrew can’t help but laugh, warmth settling in the pit of his stomach. “Yes, Jin. Please open the box.”
Jin opens the box, and pulls a dreamcatcher out of it. Pieces of paper confetti fly into the air, the stupid little hut designed to have the wind blow straight into it, apparently.
“Holy shit,” Jin murmurs, genuinely surprised. “It’s–it’s one of those things! The, the thingamajig–”
“It’s a dreamcatcher,” Andrew adds gently. It twirls left and right in the wind, beads clacking against each other, feathers swaying. An intricate pattern of string and a silver little bead–in the shape of a cat’s head, very clever–sits at the centre of the hoop. Andrew’s really, really proud of it, had enlisted the help of Arlo for advice, had shopped for feathers online, had watched tutorials over and over into early dawn. He could probably loop the thread in his sleep by now.
“You made this?” Jin said, spinning a bead.
“Yes.” Then, “Is it obvious?”
“No–it’s great. It looks great, I just don’t think you’d buy it for me. You’d just,” He laughs. “You’d just go impossibly out of your way to make it from scratch.”
“Thank you, really. This is–amazing. I’ll drill a hole into my wall to hang it above my bed.” Watching him fold it back neatly into the box, Andrew couldn’t help but feel his window grow smaller. “Thanks again.”
“I–actually, there’s … something.”
Jin stills, then closes the box before they litter the ground with more paper confetti. “Go on.”
“I’m … I’m in love with you.” Andrew cringes as he says it, and Jin’s expression is carefully neutral. He does nod, though. “And–and I set this day up to build up to this great confession, and I thought it’d be cool …”
“Which isn’t to say that I only want to be with you, romantically, cause if you want to stay friends that is completely alright with me.” He swallowed. “I can take it all back.”
“You can?” Jin interrupts, quiet. Rain continues to crash onto the roof, onto leaves, and yet Andrew’s able to hear him just fine, tuned into a frequency only they can hear.
“… No,” He admits, caught in the lie. “I–I’d try. I guess.”
Sighing, Andrew pinches his brow, manually, to offset the incoming headache. “Look, we can just be friends. I just–I just wanted to let you know.”
Jin is quiet again, the radiowaves silent and still.
An eternity passes, and Andrew feels something sour rear its head at the back of his throat.
“Don’t take it back.”
Andrew forces himself into making eye contact.
“If you’re serious about this. Do not take it back.” Jin’s eyes are round as he shuffles closer. “Do you mean it? You love me?”
Jin’s hands are on his shoulders now, nails digging into his skin through the thin material of his shirt. The absurdity of his dumb minion shirt, the little shot glass of beer (or possibly piss), and rainwater splattering at his feet nearly take him out of the moment. It’s like he can feel everything, everywhere, all at once, and yet he feels pinned into place as he studies Jin, and Jin stares back, scientist to research, subject to researcher.
“I–I do. I love you,” Andrew says, monumental, anticipation downright maddening.
Watching a tsunami towering, he watches, rapt, as tears drip through Jin’s lashes. The humidity in the air has coalesced, he thinks, into dew drops on new mornings.
“Finally.” Jin pulls him into a hug, and Andrew holds him, fingers brushing the back of his neck, where his hair fades into a buzz. It takes him a while to truly realise it, joy bubbling from the corners of his eyes, overflowing and bursting from his chest, leaking down his own face and soaking into Jin’s stupid shirt. An endless pool of emotion, a reflective surface that goes on and on and on.
“I li–love–you too,” Jin, voice pitchy. He squeezes him again, unrelenting, a drowned man clutching at straws. “It took us so long.”
“I’m sorry,” Andrew says again, “I’m sorry,” as a helpless smile spreads across his face. He can taste his tears, can taste clean rain, petrichor and salt.
Distinctly, it tastes of relief. Distinctly, joy. Distinctly, love.
They stop crying, eventually, and they unwrap sandwiches just a little flattened. They’re halfway through their meal when Andrew remembers, and he sets his sandwich down, clears his throat, looking Jin in the eye. It’s humid and they’re sweaty, sticky from sweat and tears, and eating sandwiches long gone cold. The rain beats down senselessly.
Jin beams at him, droplets trapped in his hair, cheeks wet, and Andrew thinks, finally, that everything has fallen into place.
“Happy birthday, Jin.”
I found you.