On July 17th, 2014, Mingyu saw Wonwoo cry for the first time.
“I’m going to kill you, Mingyu! Why do you do this every year?” whispered Wonwoo, spraying Mingyu with his spit.
“You spit on me!”
“Serves you right!”
Today was Wonwoo’s birthday, and while Mingyu did not have the means to do anything at a large scale, he could not not do anything for his best friend, and so, had planned a small party on the terrace of the library, their most frequented place, as he did every year.
The terrace and Hoshi’s Hamburgers had evolved into the duo’s favourite places to go after school, on weekends, whenever they bored- anytime, just like how Wonwoo had postulated years before. Anytime either of them were distressed, or excited, or wanted to work on their music, they quickly raced up the stairs towards the library, hamburgers in hand, and spent hours together simply talking. They had also found a rat on the terrace, named it Drake on Wonwoo’s request, and took to caring for it, along with teaching it Drake’s songs, though in vain. It slowly developed into a daily ritual, where they found themselves at either place regardless of whether anything significant was to happen. It was like a necessary habit- just like eating, sleeping, and breathing.
He roughly pushed Wonwoo up the stairs leading to the library terrace, a place both of them frequented as much as they did Hoshi’s Hamburgers. The older boy had already sustained an amount of bruises from bumping into random things, as Mingyu had tied a black, smelly rag across his eyes; unfortunately, Mingyu seemed as blind as Wonwoo was, as he could not guide Wonwoo without the latter crashing into something.
“Don’t worry, Wonwoo, everything happens for a reason,” Mingyu said as Wonwoo tripped over a stair.
“It’s my birthday, so I’m not going to talk of your death, but just know that I am imagining it,” Wonwoo said through gritted teeth, dusting his pants off for the umpteenth time.
They finally reached the last stair and carefully stepped onto the terrace, where Mingyu had laid out a lavish spread of their favourite snacks- Hoshi’s hamburgers (a staple), potato chips, lemon soda, huge, salty pretzels, and of course, a birthday cake. Mingyu enjoyed cooking but did not have much time to cook a lot, but made sure that he baked a big, delicious chocolate cake for Wonwoo every year, and the same featured in his little parties annually.
Above the food was a small banner made with A4 sheets of paper stapled together, the words ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY WOO’ printed on them in big, curly letters, coloured in with paint. He had also put together a few balloons that were now floating about the terrace lazily.
Mingyu took Wonwoo’s blind fold off and loudly exclaimed, “Surprise! Happy birthday,” running towards his set up and stretching his arms underneath the banner.
“Oh my God, I’m so surprised!” Wonwoo said sarcastically, laughing with Mingyu.
“But you did change things around,” Wonwoo said, looking at the banner. “Oh, you’ve upgraded to paint?! Someone’s getting rich!”
Mingyu had previously used his old coloured pencils to colour in the letters, afraid of wasting his paint; his parents would never spend their precious money on more paint. But this year, since it was so special, he had decided to do away with the pencils.
What was special about this year?
Wonwoo was going to college.
The elder one had never mentioned college before, but Mingyu was incredibly excited for it nonetheless, for Wonwoo was going to experience a whole new world, and anything that involved Wonwoo involved Mingyu as well, whether he liked it or not.
They both sat down, legs crossed, and ate.
“You’re the best, Gyu,” Wonwoo said, biting into his birthday cake. “This tastes as awesome as always, by the way.”
“Wait, wait, the fun isn’t over, my college- bound comrade,” Mingyu announced, before walking over to a pillar and pulling his guitar out.
“I… wrote a song for you. So I’m going to sing it. You can’t laugh.” Mingyu said, running his hands through his hair, his eyes trained to the ground.
Wonwoo wasn’t sure what it was. Now and then, Mingyu would do something that made Wonwoo surge with happiness, but this time, it felt different. He wasn’t happy, or excited. He wasn’t elated, he wasn’t euphoric. He couldn’t describe what he was feeling.
With a huge smile, his eyes already watering, Wonwoo placed his food down and watched Mingyu play his song.
It was actually incredibly good. Wonwoo could make out the inside jokes his friend had used in the lyrics, and the hidden references to their friendship. It sounded extremely beautiful, and Mingyu’s voice was the best thing Wonwoo had ever heard- like a crisp apple, or soft, luscious silk, or dark, out-of-this-world chocolate. Like a blanket and hot chocolate on a rainy day, and like the smell of freshly mown grass in the summer.
And once Mingyu finished, Wonwoo felt a stray tear rolling down his cheek before burying his head in his hands, his palms getting wet from the onslaught of tears.
At first, Mingyu was not sure of what to do. He had never seen Wonwoo cry and was not sure what made him to do so- whenever Mingyu did something really ‘cheesy’, Wonwoo always slapped his arm and walked off, laughing. Moreover, he did not know he would feel so heartbroken on seeing Wonwoo cry- his best friend in tears made him feel like the world was over. The pit of his stomach writhed as he watched Wonwoo cry, and tried hard to stop tears from welling up in his eyes.
‘Why are you crying, dumbo?’ Mingyu thought, slowly coming to his senses. But any kind of persuasion did not work, as Mingyu found tears steadily running down his pink cheeks.
“D-dude, what’s happening?” Mingyu asked as he squatted down next to Wonwoo, watching his friend silently cry into his lap.
“I’m going to miss you so much, Mingyu!” Wonwoo cried, looking up and hugging Mingyu like never before.
For the first time in his life, Wonwoo audibly sobbed in front of his best friend. He nodded, his arms still embracing the taller boy.
“You kn-know I’m still g-going to see you af-after school, right? Even your school will have f-finished by then,” Mingyu said, in between tears. “We can still see each other ev-everyday.”
Wonwoo shook his head, still in tears.
“No, Gyu, we can’t!”
“I’m n-not going to be in Gyeo-eonsangnam anymore! I’m m-moving!” Wonwoo sobbed.
Wonwoo did not reply.
Mingyu felt agonizing pain- it was as if the whole world had crashed down upon him. The sorrow he was feeling was unmatched. A sharp feeling if distress pierced through him, coursing through his body.
He was not going to be with Wonwoo anymore.
Wonwoo was not going to be with him anymore.
He was never going to see his best friend again. He could never skip school with him, he could never splurge on hamburgers with him, he could never sing songs and make music with him, he could never go to the movies with him, he could never lay on the library terrace, gazing at the gray sky with him.
He could never listen to long lectures about why night time was the best, or why rain and snow and black skies were beautiful.
He could never laugh with him.
“It’s alright, Wonwoo. We’ll see each other again soon,” Mingyu reasoned, all the while thinking the complete opposite. For, regardless of how easy it would be to skype with Wonwoo, or meet up once a year, it would not be the same as before. And Mingyu, however hard he tried to reassure himself and Wonwoo was the opposite, new that was true.
“Promise me you’ll never forget me, and you’ll call me every day, and come see Drake every day, and that you’ll work hard and become an awesome musician, and as soon as you’re finished with school, you’ll come and stay with me,” Wonwoo said, looking at Mingyu’s tear-ridden face.
“Wow, I didn’t we were allowed to talk so cheesy on your birthday and shit,” Mingyu said, forcing a broad smile and chuckling shakily.
Wonwoo cracked a small grin, and that was enough for Mingyu.
That day, Mingyu and Wonwoo stayed on the terrace until the whole city had gone to sleep, and laid down, gazing at the night sky, the stars twinkling against the dark expanse above them.
Mingyu learnt that Wonwoo was to leave in a week for Seoul, where he would study Music in Yonsei University. Seoul was very far away from Gyeongsangnam, and Mingyu felt pain surge through him each time he thought about how far away it was.
Aside from that, they did not mention Wonwoo’s move at all, and continued on as if it was not going to happen. After all, it was Wonwoo’s birthday, and Mingyu knew nothing except that Wonwoo’s last birthday in Gyeongsangnam had to be the best.
Finally, they stood up, clearing the mess they had created, and made their way downstairs, where they jumped out of the locked library through a window.
Wonwoo walked with Mingyu back to his house, clasping the younger one’s hand tightly.
“You know what, Woo? The night sky really is the best,” Mingyu said, as they stood outside the entrance to his house,his hands stuffed into his pockets.
“It really is, isn’t it?” Wonwoo said, smiling, his eyes twinkling like the stars in the sky. “Didn’t you say you hated the night, though?”
“I guess you changed me.”
Wonwoo let out a soft chuckle before lightly ruffling the taller one’s hair.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said, walking back, before retreating back and pulling Mingyu into a long, tight hug.
“Thanks a lot, Gyu. For everything.”
Mingyu flopped onto his bed, thinking about his best friend.
Wonwoo really had changed him.
Like how Wonwoo recognized, Mingyu did not like the night. He despised cold weather, and depressing gray skies. He had hated the sea, and the sharp winds that blew above it. He liked sunny weather, and bright sunlight shining, and warm breeze flowing about. But now, he enjoyed staring at the night sky, and revelled in the overcast weather. He began to appreciate the tranquillity of the sea, and the peace that came with sitting on the harbour with Wonwoo, wind blowing through their brown hair. Before, Mingyu had been one to fret over even the smallest things- he studied diligently, regardless of whether he liked it or not, and forced himself to enjoy the monotonous aspects of life. But with Wonwoo having entered his life, Mingyu learnt to let go. He did not need to be perfect, and he did not need to enjoy everything. Sometimes just being was enough.
Wonwoo had changed him thoroughly.
And the fact that Wonwoo featured in all of these revelations pained Mingyu, to the highest degree. He did not want to let go of Wonwoo. If it had been someone else, Mingyu’s main primary reason for not wanting to let go would have been that he would be alone again, and would have to find new friends. But Mingyu did not care about new friends. He did not care about anyone except Wonwoo, his best friend.
An indescribable feeling coursed through Mingyu as he thought of Wonwoo. Of how much fun they had. Of how much they laughed together, talked with each other, and realized most of his time was spent with Wonwoo. His head spun as a thousand emotions bombarded him at once, until his mind settled with one thought.
Mingyu loved Wonwoo.
Not just like friends. No, friendship could not describe what Mingyu felt. His love for Wonwoo surpassed anything fathomable.
And finally knowing what he felt, Mingyu knew life itself was mocking him, because he would never be able to express his love.
Unbeknownst to either of them, Wonwoo was experiencing the same torment.
Neither of them slept that night.
The days leading to Wonwoo’s departure were devastatingly angonizing. Both of the two had to act as if everything was normal. They had to walk around, the weight of their unexpressed feelings standing like tall edifices on their chests.
They went about with their normal routines-making their way to the terrace, feeding Drake, and discussing what had happened in the course of the day. They both put up the biggest facades, masterfully masking what they were really feeling.
On July 24th, 2014, Wonwoo left Gyeongsangnam.
They silently said goodbye to each other, refraining from crying.
“I’m going to miss you, Woo,” Mingyu said, looking down at Wonwoo with a bright smile.
“Don’t worry, dude. We’ll see each other again,” Wonwoo said.
“Yeah, I hope we will.”
Mingyu watched as Wonwoo walked away and stepped onto the bus. He was hoping against hope that by some weird miracle, his friend would decide against going away. But the bus rumbled and started to move, leaving Mingyu to stand outside and wave, tears welling up, as Wonwoo waved back from behind a window.
He was smiling, and Mingyu made sure to keep that image permanently embedded in his mind. Those crescent eyes that dazzled in the sun, his little nose that scrunched up when he laughed, his pink lips that made the most beautiful smile. Yes, the night sky was awesome, but Jeon Wonwoo was more. Jeon Wonwoo was extraordinary, he was astounding, he was magnificently fantastic, he was just…everything.
This was the first time Mingyu had met Wonwoo’s parents. They were warm, cheerful people, who were evidently proud of their son.
On September 28th, 2013, Mingyu had realized that he had never met Wonwoo’s parents. They rarely ever spent time in each other’s houses; they preferred the library terrace, where Wonwoo could feel at ease with the breeze, and the hamburger place, where both of them could savour their food in the infinitesimal time they were not talking. But Mingyu often talked about his parents, regardless of whether what he had to say about them were positive or not. He had also introduced them to Wonwoo when the latter had sneaked up to Mingyu’s room on his birthday. Wonwoo had never uttered a single word about his parents before, and Mingyu had noticed that he often became quite distant while talking about them.
“Hey, Woo, how come… how come you never talk about your parents?” asked Mingyu, seated atop the terrace, legs swinging dangerously off the edge.
Wonwoo looked up, a monotonous expression plastered across his face as he tried to not look taken aback.
“I always talk about my parents. I’ve never heard anything about yours.”
“Well, my parents… are there. Nice and healthy. Still alive,” said Wonwoo, avoiding Mingyu’s eyes. He could feel them staring at him, trained on the back of his head.
“Are- You’re, er, OK with them, right?”
“You know you could tell me if something was wrong.”
Wonwoo threw his books aside and lay on his back to face the sky. He let out a loud scream, his hands forcefully stretching his cheeks down.
“OK, shoot,” retorted Mingyu, unfazed with Wonwoo’s sudden outburst of emotion.
“Dude, it’s complicated.”
Wonwoo had realized that he didn’t like talking about his family, not due to their profession, but due to his. More specifically, Wonwoo was passionate about pursuing a career in music, but his parents were completely against it. He had never voiced his emotions out. During his 10th grade, he and his family had had a discussion at length about his future career, and they were absolutely bent upon him learning the trade of fishery, or if not, at least something solid, that was sure to get him a stable income. Not music, no way. Ever since then, Wonwoo simply distanced himself with any discussions involving employment. He loved his family, of course, but did not like thinking about their reaction when he did go off to compose music, because he would never, ever do anything else.
Wonwoo narrated his predicament to Mingyu.
“And that is why you have never heard of my parents,” concluded Wonwoo, his eyes now tiredly closed.
Mingyu solemnly nodded, as if in deep thought.
“I think you should just tell your parents. No matter what they say- no, I know you’ve already told them. I’m saying, keep reinforcing that that’s your passion, and you’re not going to settle for anything else! Bring the topic up whenever you can, argue with them, shout, whatever. Do something to prove you’re worthy if you want. Just make them believe in your skill, and your liking for the subject,” Mingyu advised.
“I don’t do stuff like that, Gyu… I can’t shout at my parents.”
“Dude, Wonwoo, you’re just too…,” Mingyu trailed off before wiggling his arms and swaying his body. “You know, breezy. Like, you just let anyone do whatever they want to you and you just accept it, and coop your feelings inside, and you’re just too…easy. No offense. You just can’t let everyone step on you, dude,” Mingyu said, forcing Wonwoo’s eyes open and lying down next him, making sure they faced each other. “I believe in you. But unless you take some action, unless you get up and do something instead of sitting around and moping, you’re going to start losing belief in yourself. You can’t expect anything to happen; later, when it doesn’t, you’ll just accept that as well. Get your butt down and start arguing.”
“Since when were 11th graders philosophers,” asked Wonwoo, after Mingyu’s lecture finished.
Mingyu smacked Wonwoo’s chest eliciting a loud groan from the latter.
“But seriously, good advice, young man.”
Wonwoo later convinced his parents after months of steady arguments, to let him study music. With the help of Mingyu, Wonwoo composed prize-winning songs for local competitions, resulting in Wonwoo’s parents finally believing in his future as a musician.
He had Mingyu to thank for everything, including his move to Seoul.
As Wonwoo was whisked away in the bus, he could only think of Mingyu. Yes, he was going to miss his parents, and the rest of his family, but Mingyu was the most important person in his life. While Mingyu didn’t know this, he had changed Wonwoo. Every one of his actions shaped Wonwoo from a helpless, loner, to a confident man, whether on purpose or not. His presence and company were enough for Wonwoo, and while ruminating over his thoughts, he often found himself thinking about Mingyu, and what he would have done. Thanks to Mingyu, Wonwoo was now a strong-willed, cheerful person, and the thought of his best friend itself made Wonwoo feel equipped for anything life was to throw at him. But it seemed that that was only true for when Wonwoo knew he could see Mingyu the next day.
Seated in the bus and left to his own thoughts, the same indescribable feelings as when Mingyu sang for him enveloped him. He could not bear to look at Mingyu’s face, and yet, he could not make himself look away. The both of them waved at each other, forced smiles masking the torment they were going through, until they could no longer see either one’s hands waving. Wonwoo was left to grapple with his conflicted emotions, while Mingyu was left to drown in his new-found feelings for Wonwoo, seemingly forever unrequited.