Truck Stop

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Chapter XXIV.

Checking out of the hospital is uneventful.

He’s hit with finals as soon as he gets out, and on top of studying for those, he has a ton of assignments to catch up on. It’s easy to lock himself in his room when he’s not working and pretend everything is fine when deadlines creep up his back and settle their weight across his shoulders.

Yong-sun walked on eggshells around him. Every time Lincoln came out of his room to get more coffee or use the bathroom, Yong-sun flinched at the sight of him. Lincoln wasn’t sure if Yong-sun was appalled by his wildly disheveled appearance, or if he just wasn’t sure what to say.

Nobody called or texted him. It was pretty much radio silence between him and his friends. Lincoln went through Hell Week and finals without talking to anyone except for his professors and everyone at his workplace.

The first time he showed up at Happy Go Lucky, Theresa had tried to get him to go home. Lincoln had just smiled wryly and told her that he wanted some routine. That much was true.

It seemed like the customers could sense something was wrong, and nobody forced him through polite conversation. Though Anne assured him that he looked fine, he realized he probably seemed as if he’d been dragged through Hell and back three times over.

Lincoln’s shifts were calm and relaxing, assembling some sort of normalcy in his life that kept him from breaking down. He thought he caught a glimpse of Jupiter peering through the window of the cafe, but when he turned to look, he saw nothing but a blur of bright orange.

However, the first time he showed up for his shift at the club, he found out he was fired. To his asshole of a boss, apparently being in the hospital isn’t a good excuse to miss work. Lincoln could’ve protested, argued that he’s entitled to sick days, but he honestly didn’t care. He didn’t even really need the second job anymore, not when he didn’t have to pay any medical bills. He’d already paid off the last of them, emptying out his savings account. He couldn’t bring himself to care.

After he finished his last final, throwing himself into one more shift before he’d take a break for the holidays, he came home to a silent apartment. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence since Yong-sun spent a lot of time at Jackson’s. Though this time, he hadn’t opened the door to an empty apartment like he’d expected.

“I’m staging an intervention,” Jupiter said softly, standing up from the couch. Lincoln faltered at the sight of him, emotions that he had been pushing down suddenly rising up to his throat and making it hard for him to breathe. “Link.”

“Don’t,” Lincoln begged. “Everything is fine.

“God, Link,” Jupiter said, coming closer. The past two weeks had seemed dull and out of focus, and the clarity of Jupiter’s bright orange hair made Lincoln’s eyes hurt. He was so bright and colorful wearing a red hoodie and paint splattered jeans. “It’s not fine. Have you even had time to mourn?”

“I don’t want to mourn,” Lincoln said petulantly, shutting the door and leaning against it. He eyed Jupiter warily and felt lonely discomfort in his chest. He had missed him, but he couldn’t stop feeling guilty. “I’m sorry for missing your art show.”

Jupiter made a soft noise, recoiling harshly like he’d been burned. He looked a little lost, drawing his eyebrows together in confusion. “What? Don’t be sorry, you didn’t do anything wrong.

“But I’m a bad friend,” Lincoln replied. “I’m a bad friend and…and I’m a bad son.”

It was like a dam broke, and Lincoln crumpled to the floor, crying quietly. Jupiter rushed forward and fell to his knees, holding Lincoln as tightly as he could. The younger murmured quiet reassurances, rocking them both back and forth as Lincoln cried pathetically.

“You’re allowed to take a break,” Jupiter whispered. “You’re allowed to breathe, you’re allowed to cry and be weak. Link, you don’t have to be okay. You’re only human.”

You’re only human. It’s okay. You don’t have to be strong.

They were words Lincoln didn’t realize he needed to hear. He felt so stupid, crying in front of his door in the arms of someone he’d only known for a few months. As he calmed down and wiped his eyes with his sleeve, he felt grateful that Yong-sun wasn’t home. He had cried way too many times this month.

“You don’t have to lie to us,” Jupiter continued. “I know it’s hard to trust us, I know we haven’t been friends for this long. But whether or not you believe me, we will be here for you. You can tell us stuff.”

Lincoln takes a deep, shuddering breath before smiling weakly and pushing Jupiter away gently so he could stand. He felt a little shaken by the younger’s words, but otherwise he was fine. He didn’t like crying, but he had to admit it was a little cathartic, and it seemed as if a heavy load had been lifted off his shoulders

“Are you okay?” Jupiter asked.

“Ye-” Lincoln stopped himself when Jupiter sent him a vicious glare. “I think so. I’m just tired, I think I need to lie down.” He blinked the oncoming dizziness away and staggered towards his bedroom, Jupiter following behind him, probably to make sure he didn’t fall.

“How were finals?” Jupiter shut the door as he spoke, flopping down on Ziggy and reaching for Bambam, who had been sleeping on Lincoln’s bed. “Do you think you did okay?”

“I don’t know, they were surprisingly easy,” Lincoln frowned. “Which means I probably bombed them.”

Jupiter snorted. “I doubt that.” He stretched out on the tiger, baby blue t-shirt riding up past his hips. Lincoln snickered and reached over to flick the bare skin, which made Jupiter flail so hard, he smacked his face off the wall.

“Ow,” Jupiter muttered, covering his nose with his hands and pouting at Lincoln. “You’re so mean!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lincoln murmured, letting his eyes fall shut. It felt like he hadn’t slept in years, when in reality he had slept for five days straight not even three weeks ago. Finals had conquered his ass so badly; never again would he feel confident about his grades. “I’m so scared of failing.”

“There’s no way you failed,” Jupiter said, abandoning his nose in favor of petting at Lincoln’s shoulder harshly until Lincoln swatted him away, eyes still closed. “Are you always like this? Have you ever failed a test before?”

“No but I-”

“But nothing,” Jupiter cut him off, poking his cheek until Lincoln tried to bite him. “You’re not gonna start. Worst case scenario, you got like 80% in all your classes. Which I highly doubt, you fucktard, lie the fuck down.” Jupiter hurriedly added when Lincoln sat up, eyes wide in fear.

“Are you always this annoying?” Lincoln grumbled, laying back down.

Jupiter giggled before he said, “I’ve never seen you this grumpy before. You’re usually so happy go lucky.”

“Was that a pun?” Lincoln demanded, scowling. He shut his eyes again, stretching out on the bed. He felt the mattress sink with the younger’s weight, and Jupiter leaned over to massage his shoulders properly. The tension seeped out of his body and he melted into the covers. “Jesus.”

“You’re so tense,” Jupiter complained, digging his fingers in harder. “You need to take more breaks.”

“Ugh, I don’t have time,” Lincoln groaned, turning his face into the pillow. “Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking, double majoring. I hate myself.”

“It’s gotta have its perks though,” Jupiter commented mildly. “Are you doing grad school?”

“Of course,” Lincoln replied. “I’m definitely not ready for the real world, fuck that.”

“I think out of all of us, you’re the only one who has experienced anything that even sort of resembles what it’s like in the real world,” Jupiter said, leaning his forehead against Lincoln’s shoulder. “You’re so strong.”

Stupidly, it took Lincoln a moment to realize that Jupiter wasn’t talking about his physique. He turned to face Jupiter, who was watching him with sorrow evident in his eyes.

“Have you ever heard of the 52-hertz whale?” Jupiter said suddenly, climbing onto the bed and laying down next to Lincoln. He stared up at the ceiling like he was seeing something that wasn’t there, and it made Lincoln shift into a more upright position. He continued before Lincoln could say anything. “It’s a whale that emits a call of an unusual frequency, which means other whales can’t understand it. People call it the ‘world’s loneliest whale’. I think it must be.”

Jupiter took a deep breath and sighed, blowing his bangs off his forehead. He didn’t look at Lincoln as he spoke again. “Sometimes I feel like that whale. Sometimes I feel like I’m emitting a different frequency. People think I’m weird, and crazy. I’ve had teachers try to get me on medication. School nurses who think I have ADHD even when the doctors say I’m perfectly fine. I hate it so much. I always feel like I’m being judged by everyone. Even our friends, I can tell even they get tired of me sometimes.”

“But you? You have never judged me, ever. Even when I’m loud or I drag you to places you probably don’t want to go. Even when I cry or get drunk and throw up on your shoes,” Jupiter said. “I used to think perfect people didn’t exist, but then I saw you and I was forced to change my mind. Sure, you’re like, emotionally constipated but. But! You’ve never let that stop you from making friends and doing what you love.”

“And I know,” Jupiter continued. “I know that maybe you’ve had one too many people say things they didn’t mean to you. I can tell that from the way you act whenever some of your old friends contact you. And all those people surrounding you in highschool when they wanted something, but abandoning you when you needed them. I saw that. But you still make friends, you still trust people even though it must be hard. You’re so polite and kind and non-judgmental. You’re really understanding, and it’s not just because you’re a psychology major.”

Jupiter fell silent for a moment, and Lincoln took the time to recollect himself. Jupiter’s words were tearing him open, unlocking the chains he had unknowingly surrounded his heart with in hopes of preventing it from breaking ever again.

“I’ve probably had a crush on you since you walked into Chemistry twenty minutes late on your first day and explained to the teacher that you were late because a kid in your fitness class had a nosebleed and you didn’t want to leave him alone,” Jupiter laughed. “That’s how I ended up spilling the beaker on my lab partner; I was so distracted by you. You were crazy smart, everyone wanted to be your partner during labs. I was always too afraid to approach you.”

“I wish you had, most of my lab partners were shit,” Lincoln remarked, solely to hear Jupiter’s giggles. “In all honesty, I really would’ve been your friend.”

“I know you would have,” Jupiter said, rolling his eyes. “You were the nicest guy in the school. I was totally intimidated by you. Now I realize you’re a total loser.” Lincoln retaliated by shoving him off the bed, though no damage was inflicted because he landed on the stupid giant tiger.

“Thanks a lot, Ziggy,” Lincoln scoffed, spreading out like a starfish on the bed so there was no more room for Jupiter. The Korean boy smacked at him but he refused to budge, so he was forced to settle with curling up on the stuffed tiger. “I have to admit, it feels kinda nice that you view me as such a good person. I really try not to be shitty, but most of the time it feels like it’s not working.”

“In what world are you a shitty person?” Jupiter asked. “I think you’ve convinced yourself that being selfish is bad, but it’s normal. I mean, being too selfish is bad, obviously. Everything in excessive amounts is bad. So don’t you think being too selfless can be bad too?”

Lincoln blinked. Once. Twice. His throat went a little dry. “I think you’re right.”

“I’m always right,” Jupiter replied. “Is that Yong-sun?”

“What?” Lincoln said, startled by the sudden change in topic. Though his confusion quickly disappeared when he heard footsteps padding down the hall. The door flinging open is the only warning he gets before Yong-sun is diving onto the bed, crushing Lincoln in the process.

“Oh, fuck,” The eldest wheezed.

“Rest in peace,” Jupiter commented, spectating from his position on the floor. Lincoln wanted to smack that smirk off his face as he rubbed at his stomach where Yong-sun’s sharp elbows had landed.

“Hyung,” Yong-sun whined. “I missed you.”

“Are you drunk?” Jupiter asked, and it was only then that Lincoln could smell alcohol on the younger’s breath. “He’s totally drunk.”

“I stole your strawberry vodka,” Yong-sun giggled, poking at Lincoln’s stomach. “Don’t be mad.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Lincoln replied. “But you’re just a child, and did you walk home drunk?!”

“Nope,” Yong-sun said. “I went in a car. With the guy. Jack O’Lantern. Your stomach is so hard, do you workout?”

“You’re surprisingly coherent when you’re intoxicated,” Lincoln said amusedly. “But you don’t even remember your boyfriend’s name? You need to drink water.”

He silently motioned for Jupiter to get some water while Yong-sun nosed towards his neck like a heat-seeking missile, flopping on top of his chest and pushing his face against Lincoln’s collarbone. Lincoln almost jumped. “Jesus, you’re cold.”

“’S cold outside!” Yong-sun whined, burrowing under the covers.

“Yes, it’s winter,” Lincoln said patiently.

“My name is a girl name,” Yong-sun complained randomly. “My parents thought I was gonna be a girl so they named me Yong-sun.”

“It’s okay, there was a male Korean politician named Yong-sun, may he rest in peace,” Lincoln attempted to console him as Jupiter returned with a water bottle. He pulled Yong-sun into a sitting position and held the bottle to his lips. He felt like he was feeding a baby rather than an overgrown teenager. Yong-sun gulped down some water obediently, slurping obnoxiously until Jupiter smacked his arm. Yong-sun spat water at his face.

“Aw, gross!” Jupiter squealed, wiping his face on Lincoln’s bedsheets.

“Thanks for that,” Lincoln said sarcastically, capping the water and putting it on the bedside table. “God, I feel like a single mother taking care of two toddlers.”

“Mommy,” Yong-sun said seriously, eyes wide as he pushed his face into Lincoln’s. Jupiter snorted from behind him, settling back onto the tiger. Lincoln just let out an exasperated sigh and pushed Yong-sun’s head down until he was horizontal on the bed.

“You’re the bane of my existence,” Lincoln said jokingly to Yong-sun’s pliant form as he tugged the blankets up to Yong-sun’s chin.

“Mm, I love you too,” Yong-sun responded sleepily, reaching up to pet Lincoln’s hair and ending up smacking him in the face. Lincoln rolled his eyes and sighed again, arranging Yong-sun’s limbs in a more comfortable position. He paused when Jupiter snickered, turning to see him holding his phone in his hand.

“What?” Lincoln questioned, narrowing his eyes in suspicion.

“Nothing,” Jupiter giggled. “I just posted this super cute video of you and Yong-sun on Snapchat.”

“Oh god, I look like shit,” Lincoln bemoaned, knowing full well the absurd amount of friends Jupiter had on the app. He was pretty sure Jupiter’s score was over 150 000, while his was a measly 2700. “Why would you do that?”

“Because you guys are adorable!” Jupiter exclaimed, not taking his eyes off his screen. “Jackson says to stop being cuter with his boyfriend than he is.”

“I can’t help that we’re goals,” Lincoln replied, closing his eyes again. Seeing Yong-sun fall asleep reminded Lincoln just how tired he was.

“Don’t go to sleep!” Jupiter whined. When Lincoln didn’t respond, Jupiter grumbled and climbed into bed too, forcing Lincoln to roll onto his side to make room. “Your bed is too small.”

“Well, sorry for not getting a bed to accommodate three people,” Lincoln answered snarkily. “You can sleep in Yong-sun’s bed.”

“Nope, it’s warm here,” Jupiter stated matter-of-factly. “Think of it as our second date featuring Yong-sun as a third wheel.”

“What a terrible second date,” Lincoln said dryly, wincing as Jupiter kicked at his shin and it scraped along Yong-sun’s shoe, which he apparently had forgotten to take off. Lincoln hadn’t even noticed that Yong-sun was still wearing his shoes. He really needed to wash his sheets tomorrow. It was crowded and overheated in the bed, and Yong-sun still smelled like alcohol. It really was a terrible second date.

Lincoln fell asleep comfortably anyway.

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