Truck Stop

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Chapter IV.

“ Mr. Hartridge!”

Lincoln startled awake, almost toppling out of his seat at the sound of his professor’s voice. He hadn’t even realized he was asleep until he had woken up. Nervously, he looked up at his professor who was standing in front of him, face red with anger.

“I take it you find my class boring?” Professor Kindling asked harshly. Lincoln felt his cheeks burn as he sat up, noticing everyone staring at him and feeling humiliated.

“No sir,” Lincoln protested, shaking his head vehemently. “My apologies, sir.”

The professor nodded in satisfaction, marching back to the front of the room. Lincoln slumped in his seat and trained his eyes on his laptop screen, taking care not to fall asleep again even though his eyelids felt heavy and his head pounded with exhaustion. Lincoln went back to typing notes on the word document opened on his screen, the methodical tapping of keys doing nothing to keep him awake.

Work had prevented him from an important project he had to get done before it was due, and last night he was up until the sunrise. Lincoln kept his head down until the end of class, when he started packing up his laptop and pens, shoving them into his bag.

“Mr. Hartridge, may I have a word?” Professor Kindling gave him a you better stay behind look as everyone else filed out the doors of the lecture hall. Lincoln sighed and slung his bag over his shoulder, walking down the few rows of seats and standing in front of his professor’s desk.

“As you know, I don’t tolerate people wasting my time,” He began, peering over the gold frames of his glasses to stare at Lincoln with beady eyes. “And you are one of those people. This is the second time you have fallen asleep during one of my lectures.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I won’t do it again,” Lincoln promised nervously, shifting his feet. Professor Kindling had an unnerving stare, and never seemed to blink.

“That’s not really the issue,” The professor cut off further apologies. “I have been informed by administration that you are here on scholarship and you live in an apartment off-campus. I also know that you work at the cafe a few blocks away on weekdays–”

“With all due respect, sir,” Lincoln interrupted, heart pounding with fear. Of what, Lincoln wasn’t certain. “But that is none of your concern.”

The professor stared at him again, tight-lipped and looking slightly worried, under hardened features. “Do not fall asleep again during my lectures, or you will be asked to leave for the day. That is all.”

Lincoln actually bowed slightly before scurrying out the door, feeling like a mouse being watched by a hawk. The anxiety does not go away even after he exits the building, because he cannot afford to miss a lecture. Midterms are coming up, and sociology was kicking his ass.

Why he chose to major both in Sociology and Criminology, he wasn’t sure. Social issues and crime went hand in hand, in his opinion, and he was interested in both, knew he wanted a career in at least one. To major in Criminology and Criminal Justice, sociology and psychology courses were required, and he found he liked sociology enough to major in it as well. Plus, both degrees required plenty of psychology courses, which he found he enjoyed as well.

Lincoln stopped walking and found himself near Bernard Hill Hall. He looked at the enormous white building, gleaming in the sunlight, and reminded himself why he was here. To do the best I can. To support my mom while doing something I love.

Turning around, he spotted Jackson by a tree and started towards him, stopping when he noticed the girl in front of him. He could just barely hear what she was saying, but it sounded like a confession. Jackson’s expression was unlike one Lincoln’s ever seen before. His face was stone-cold blank, any sign of the cheerful Chinese student gone.

“I’m sorry,” Jackson said, looking anything but. His words were firm but not harsh. “But I can’t return your feelings.”

The girl ran away in tears, and Jackson’s cold demeanor crumpled. He looked stricken with guilt. A group of guys passing by noticed the girl, then Jackson.

“Mr. Heartbreaker has struck again!” One of them sneered, a chorus of laughter ringing through the air. Lincoln glared at them and started walking determinedly towards Jackson’s crumpled form. The Chinese man was slumped against the trunk of the tree, hands covering his face. He only looked up when Lincoln approached him tentatively.

“Hey,” Lincoln greeted, awkward yet gentle.

“You saw that?” Jackson guessed, nodding at the girl’s retreating figure and then at the group of guys who had passed. Lincoln smiled apologetically and leaned against the tree next to him. Jackson took off his leather snapback and raked his fingers through messy black hair. “Happens sometimes.”

“Why did those guys call you ‘Mr. Heartbreaker’?” Lincoln asked curiously, unable to stop himself from prying. “I mean, if you feel comfortable telling me.”

Jackson sighed, then shrugged. “A lot of girls confess to me. Not to sound egotistical or anything like that. They get disappointed when I say no, and I always feel so terrible. But most of them, I’ve never even spoken to. And it’s become somewhat of a challenge now.”

“That’s not your fault,” Lincoln tried to console him. “You can’t help being likable, the same way they can’t help liking you.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Jackson grimaced. “It’s hard to tell when people are being genuine or artificial though, and that’s why I turn them down. And I don’t want to date or hook-up with anyone if my feelings are otherwise occupied. Shit!” The last part is muttered under his breath, like he hadn’t meant to say it.

Normally Lincoln wouldn’t pry but– “You’ve got feelings for someone? Who?”

The sound of a phone ringing interrupted them. Both students fumbled for their phones, Lincoln checking to find his blank. He looked at Jackson’s phone, screen completely visible. A picture of Yong-sun smiling with a puppy filter was shown. He glanced at Jackson’s face and couldn’t hide his surprise when he realized.

“Well,” Jackson said quietly. “Now you know who.”

Oh, shit.



It takes a while for Jackson to calm down. Lincoln imagined the guilt always stayed with him. He had been too flabbergasted to say anything for the most part, still stuck on the fact that Jackson had feelings for a certain Korean student. Awkwardly, Lincoln managed to get over his shock enough to invite Jackson to a late lunch/early dinner before the showcase.


“I’d love to,” Jackson smiled, somewhat strained but still genuine. “Ah, actually, my place is nearby. We could make something, if you like?”


Lincoln wondered if Jackson just didn’t want to be in public, but he accepted without question. They walked across campus towards the parking lot where Jackson’s car was sitting, a black Lexus that Lincoln was kind of afraid to get in. He sat gingerly on the red leather seat until Jackson rolled his eyes and shoved him back.


“You’re being ridiculous,” Jackson laughed. “It’s not brand new or anything, it was my dad’s.”


“It’s well-maintained, I didn’t want to scratch it!” Lincoln defended himself.


“I wouldn’t care if you did,” Jackson said, pulling out of the spot. “I mean, think about it. Jupiter rides with me all the time and he’s crazy.”


“Must be wild,” Lincoln commented.


“Yeah, especially when we’ve got soju,” Jackson chuckled. Lincoln made a mental note to google what soju is, exactly. He still wasn’t sure. “You cool with staying until the showcase?”


“I don’t have any clothes,” Lincoln said, almost smacking himself for stating the obvious. “What do you even wear to a showcase? Is it formal?”


“Nah, not all,” Jackson replied. “And you can borrow some of my clothes, we’re about the same size.”


Lincoln stared at Jackson in his all black, mostly leather ensemble and winced. “I don’t think I’d look good in leather pants, and I’ve got at least three inches on you.”


“I’m two centimeters above average height for Chinese males! It’s not my fault you’re a six-foot monster!” Jackson squawked outrageously. He pulled over and grabbed Lincoln’s shirt before he could squirm away. “Yeah, okay, you’ll fit in my shirts.”


“You could have just asked my size, you weirdo!” Lincoln exclaimed.


“Whatever,” Jackson waved a hand dismissively before putting it back on the steering wheel. He started driving again, much to Lincoln’s relief. “Oh, can I put eyeliner on you? You’ve got blue eyes, I’m so jealous. There’s no way I could have blue eyes ’cause I’m Chinese, so that’s not probable.”


Lincoln was too tired to keep up with Jackson’s chatter, letting it wash over him but still listening to everything he said. Jackson didn’t seem to mind that Lincoln wasn’t replying much, just continued talking until they pulled into the driveway of his home.


The house was a nice, neat two-story white building that looked like the kind of home families had in the movies. It had a freshly mowed lawn, a white picket fence and a mailbox with Jackson’s family name printed on it. It was nicer than the house Lincoln lived in for most of his childhood before his mother got sick.


“Home sweet home,” Jackson grinned. “My parents aren’t home, so don’t worry. Do you know how to cook?”


“Yep, I live by myself,” Lincoln replied, getting out of the car and shutting the door firmly. Jackson gave him a questioning look and locked the car.


“You don’t live with your mom?” He asked curiously, leading the way up the porch steps and unlocking the door.


“No, she’s not well so she’s staying with my uncle in the city,” Lincoln explained, trailing behind Jackson as they walked into the house. The interior was neat and polished, with Brazilian cherry wood floors, pristine white walls and a gleaming staircase leading upstairs. Jackson kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the hall. Lincoln took off his own, but placed them neatly near the door.


“The kitchen’s this way,” Jackson gestured towards one of the doors. Lincoln followed him dutifully like a lost puppy. They walked through the living room where he only got a quick glance before they went into the kitchen, which was huge. Probably the size of his apartment.


“My mom is a chef, that’s why we got a house with a big kitchen,” Jackson said. Lincoln ran his fingers over the shiny quartz countertop and examined the ceramic tile of the floor. Everything was so tidy and orderly, it made Lincoln feel like a slob in comparison. Jackson walked over to the enormous fridge and pulled open the door, revealing shelves full of groceries. Reminded of his empty fridge back at his apartment, Lincoln almost drooled at the sight.


Quickly composing himself, he joined Jackson in peering at the contents of the fridge. “What do you want to make?”

“Wanna try making pizza?” Jackson asked, pointing to the Pillsbury pizza dough sitting in one of the door shelves. “That must be my dad’s, my mom would never buy that stuff. She’d probably make it from scratch, but I don’t know how to do that. Oh, there’s another one.”


They placed the cans on the table and Jackson instructed Lincoln to open them while he got out a large pan and greased it. Lincoln unrolled the dough over the pan, waiting patiently for Jackson to finish rummaging around in the fridge and pantry, setting ingredients onto the table.


“I found ground beef, do you want to try making cheeseburger pizza? It’s good, I promise,” Jackson swore, raising a hand and putting the other over his heart in a solemn oath. Lincoln shrugged and Jackson handed him two cans of pasta sauce. “I’m gonna preheat the oven.”


He fiddled with the buttons and Lincoln searched for the can opener in one of the drawers. Jackson doesn’t seem to notice his struggle, so it takes a while for him to find it. He quickly worked open the cans and grabbed a spoon from the cutlery drawer he discovered earlier.


Jackson turned some music on and plugged it into a speaker sitting on top of one of the cabinets. An upbeat song filtered through the room, in a language Lincoln didn’t understand. Jackson grinned knowingly and changed the music to a rock station. Immediately, Green Day’s new single filled the room, causing Lincoln to smile.


“You like this band?” Jackson asked, tilting his head. He left his phone alone and went back to cooking ground beef in a skillet.


“Yeah, they’re one of my favourites. I listened to them a lot while growing up,” Lincoln answered absentmindedly. “Do you have a cheese grater?” He held up the block of cheese he had just finished unwrapping.


“It’s in this cabinet,” Jackson said, kicking at one of the doors with his foot. Lincoln retrieved the grater and found a large bowl to put the cheese in. “I know most of the songs from their 1994 album.”


“Dookie?” Lincoln clarified. “My favourite. I think it won a grammy, actually.”


“Deserved one,” Jackson commented. The Green Day song finished and soon, one by Fleetwood Mac was blaring instead. Lincoln finished with the cheese and Jackson chopped onions, somehow not tearing up.


“Do you like pickles?” Jackson asked, once they had covered both pizzas with toppings and stuck them in the oven. “We should add pickles. I’d say tomatoes too but we already have the sauce. I have sour cream and onion dip, I think. You should shower.”


The last part startled Lincoln, who had been half-listening at the time. Jackson didn’t wait for a reply, instead shoving Lincoln back through the living room and up the stairs. Lincoln stumbled through one of the doors and realized it was Jackson’s bedroom, neat like the rest of the house with a navy and periwinkle colour scheme.


Jackson came in shortly after with a large fluffy towel folded in his arms. “Okay, I’m gonna pick out something for you to wear. Just sit and chill for a minute.” He pushed Lincoln into his desk chair and opened the door to his closet, which mostly consisted of black and leather.


“Take this,” Jackson tossed a shirt at him. Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief when he saw it was just a simple black button up. “And these.”


He’s tossed a red flannel and shredded black skinny jeans that look like they’ve been hacked apart with a chainsaw. “Your shoes are fine. My bathroom’s through that door, you can use whatever shampoo you want. Hurry and get changed.”

Jackson throws the towel over his head and goes back to looking through his closet. Lincoln shrugged, got to his feet and walked into the bathroom. Which was also freakishly clean. He was starting to feel a little nauseated from the perfection of each room. Idly, as he stripped and stepped into the shower, he wondered if Jackson remembered they hadn’t cleaned the kitchen yet.


He examined the row of bottles on the shelves of the shower stall as the water heated up. There were plenty of different soaps, shampoos and hair conditioners each with different functions. Most of them looked unopened. He picked some generic looking soap and shampoo that smelled nice and a strawberry-scented conditioner.


Lincoln could hear Jackson rapping along to some track over the spray of the water as he scrubbed himself clean. The conditioner made his hair feel soft and the water made his muscles feel loose and pliant. He didn’t want to make Jackson wait so he quickly turned off the shower and stepped out, wrapping the towel around himself.


After drying off, Lincoln put on the shirt and squirmed into the skinny jeans. Surprisingly, they fit despite Jackson being much shorter. The waistband dug into his skin a little, but it wasn’t too bad. He tied the flannel around his waist instead of putting it on and walked out of the bathroom.


“Wow, you look awesome!” Jackson exclaimed happily, his hair dripping. “Oh, I took a shower in the other bathroom, if you were wondering.”


“I don’t really look any different than usual,” Lincoln frowned, picking at the hem of his shirt until he remembered it didn’t belong to him. “What do you want me to do with my clothes and the towel?”


“Oh, I’ll put them in the wash,” Jackson said. “Then in the dryer before we leave. Since you don’t really have another outfit to wear. Let’s go eat, then I’m doing your hair and makeup.”


Lincoln rolled his eyes, but followed Jackson downstairs nonetheless. The kitchen had been mostly cleaned up, much to Lincoln’s surprise and confusion. “I’m pretty sure we left this place a mess.”


“Oh, my sister must be home,” Jackson said dismissively. “She’s fast at cleaning. Anyway, let’s eat.” He yanked open the oven door and put on a pair of pink oven mitts, easing the pans out and placing them on the table. Jackson added pickle slices and bell pepper on his own, while Lincoln just left his alone.


“It’s not very burger-like,” Jackson complained when Lincoln declined his toppings. The blonde just shrugged in reply. Jackson found the pizza cutter after checking multiple drawers.


“Hot, hot, hot!” Jackson yelled through a mouthful of pizza. He swallowed and made a pained face, running to the fridge to get the water pitcher and pour himself a glass.


“It just came out of the oven, of course it’s gonna be hot,” Lincoln said matter-of-factly. He blew on his own slice until he deemed it okay to eat. “This isn’t half-bad.”


“You should try Yong-sun’s cooking,” Jackson said, having recovered from his self-inflicted pain. Lincoln tilted his head and immediately Jackson blushed. “Fuck off, I shouldn’t have told you.”


“I can’t help it, it’s so cute,” Lincoln gushed. “I mean who would’ve thought?”


“I certainly didn’t,” Jackson grumbled, shoving more pizza in his mouth. “Now shut up about it, you’re embarrassing me.”


“Do the others know?” Lincoln asked, finishing off his slice and picking up another one. He finally pulled out a chair and sat down.


Jackson nodded. “Everyone but Yong-sun. He’s kind of oblivious, but I’ve never made it obvious.”


“You should try flirting and see how he reacts,” Lincoln suggested. Immediately, Jackson shot down the idea.


“Are you crazy? I can’t flirt!”


“You flirt with me all the time,” Lincoln reminded him, thinking of the day they got lunch together.


“Yeah, but I don’t have a crush on you,” Jackson replied, looking at Lincoln like he was the one being stupid. “It’s completely different. Plus, he’s so out of my league.”


“Yeah, that’s true,” Lincoln agreed.


“Hey!” Jackson exclaimed, pretending to be affronted. “You’re supposed to be more encouraging.”


“I would but he really is out of your league. And mine, and everyone on the planet’s,” Lincoln said. “Seriously, it’s a little unfair how good-looking he is.”


“And he’s so nice,” Jackson complained. “Why can’t he be a dick? It’d be so much easier to like him if he was a jerk.”


“I don’t think you would have liked him in the first place if he was a jerk.”


“You’re right, valid point.” They ate the rest of their respective pizzas in a comfortable silence. Lincoln tried to clean up a little, but Jackson waved him off. “My sister or mom will do it, and I’ll pay them back when I get home. Don’t worry about it.”


Jackson cleared the table of dishes and washed his hands, drying them off with a hand towel.


“If you’re sure,” Lincoln said awkwardly. He threw out his napkin and washed his own hands. As soon as he turned off the tap, Jackson seized his wrist and dragged him back to his room. He could hear the sound of muffled Drake music in another room as Jackson once again shoved him into the desk chair.


Lincoln is attacked by hairspray and a comb, then an eyeliner pencil and fluffy brushes. He shut his eyes against the onslaught, and for a moment, his exhaustion came back full force, almost making him keel over. He hadn’t realized how tired he was.


“Lincoln? Lincoln,” Jackson stretched out the syllables in his name obnoxiously. Lincoln opened his eyes, and noticed how Jackson had finished his makeup and done his own. How long did he have his eyes closed?


“Sorry, I completely zoned out,” Lincoln lied, adding a chuckle that sounded fake to his own ears. “Anyway, let’s see how bad I look.”


“Excuse you, I am a master of makeup,” Jackson sniffed. Lincoln was glad he didn’t notice the deflection and got up to look in the bathroom mirror.


Despite the fact that he was joking earlier, Lincoln is a little surprised at the truth in Jackson’s statement. Jackson had somehow covered up the bags under his eyes, and had lined the inner corners of his eyes with silver, a contrast to the black on the outer corners. It made his eyes look blue instead of gray like they usually did.


He was completely fine with his makeup until– “Jackson!”


“What?” Jackson yelled back, before he appeared in the doorframe.


“Why the fuck is there glitter on my face?” Lincoln fumed, pointing at the sparkly makeup on his cheekbones.


“To accentuate your high cheekbones of course!” Jackson replied, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “You’ve got such a dainty little face.”


Jackson reached over and ruffled Lincoln’s previously carefully styled hair. Lincoln ducked away, glaring.


“Take. It. Off,” The blonde growled.


“It’ll ruin the rest of your makeup, silly, and we don’t have time for me to re-do it,” Jackson said. He fastened his fingers around Lincoln’s wrist and dragged him away from the mirror, shoving a leather jacket into his arms. “Put this on or you’ll get cold.”


“I will kill you,” Lincoln promised, seething. Jackson just hummed in reply and shoved him until he went downstairs. They left after Jackson said goodbye to his sister, getting into the car. It was shortly after five, which meant the performance was starting soon. Jackson drove them to a venue that was about ten minutes from the arts college. Already, there were many cars in the parking lot, and he had trouble finding a parking space.


“This is a surprising turnout for a college performance,” Lincoln drawled, looking around.


“It’s because it’s Oliver’s performance,” Jackson laughed. When Lincoln gave him a questioning look, he explained quickly. “He runs a popular YouTube channel and the students at his school all know him, so they tend to frequent many of his performances.”


“Oh? What YouTube channel?” Lincoln asked as Jackson pulled into a free parking spot, much to the annoyance of another car. He unbuckled his seatbelt and opened the door, Jackson’s reply getting lost in the sound. He rounded the car speedily and followed Jackson across the lot towards the front door. “Sorry, what was that?”


“ButtonBrooks,” Jackson repeated, somewhat mockingly. The name was a little ridiculous, but it rang familiar in Lincoln’s mind.


“Wait,” Lincoln said, stopping in his tracks, his eyes wide. “You’re telling me that Oliver is Button? The Button? Probably the best rapper I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to?”


“Oh, so you’re a fan,” Jackson said, amused. His eyes twinkled with laughter, but he was thankfully holding it back. “Yeah, how did you not know? His last name is Brooks and he’s Australian.”


“I’m pretty sure there are at least a hundred Australians with the last name Brooks,” Lincoln grumbled, walking again. Oliver is our Eli Kim, Jupiter had said that day in the cafe. Suddenly that made a lot more sense. “I still can’t believe he’s Button. I’ve been listening to Button since he posted Railroads.”


“Wow, the first studio track.” Jackson seemed impressed as he held the venue doors open for a couple girls. “You’ve been around for a while, then. I’ve never actually listened to his music, I can’t get over the ridiculous pseudonym.”


“I was put off at first, I almost didn’t listen to the track when my friend sent it to me,” Lincoln admitted sheepishly. “I’m not really judgmental, but a supposed hardcore rapper going by Button didn’t sound promising. I was so wrong. I can’t believe I didn’t know Oliver’s Button. How does everyone know if he keeps his real identity a secret?”


“Oh, well, long story short,” Jackson said as they took their seats close to the stage. “Some information leaked that Button went to the arts college here, then some other guy challenged him to an exclusive rap battle. Needless to say he got destroyed, but everyone who knew of Button found out Oliver was him. It’s kind of an unspoken rule to keep his identity a secret.”


“Wow,” Lincoln said, feeling a little embarrassed about how much he freaked out. He noticed the empty seat next to Jackson. “Wait, wasn’t Tsuyoshi supposed to come with us?”


“Yeah but he got caught up in some project he was working on,” Jackson nodded. “Oh, there he is now.” Lincoln craned his neck to see Tsuyoshi and the others making their way to the front row, where they filled the entire middle section. Thank God it was reserved for them.


“Hey Lincoln!” Hajime chimed as he sat on Lincoln’s other side. “Good you could make it. Show’s almost starting soon.”


“I’m nervous, and I’m not even performing,” Tsuyoshi confessed from next to Jackson. “They’ve been working so hard.”


“I’m so proud of them,” Xavier whisper-shouted from the end. They all nodded in agreement. Lincoln felt stifled with heat, only feeling slightly better when he removed his jacket. It was really hot in the venue.


“It’s so fucking hot,” Jackson complained, earning glares from the old ladies behind him. Why they were at a college performance, Lincoln had no idea, but their scowls had no effect on the Chinese student, who continued to swear about the heat.


“Shh, it’s starting!” Tsuyoshi hissed. Sure enough, the lights dimmed and a song began blaring through the speakers that started with a slew of “La”s. Lincoln didn’t even realize the song wasn’t English until someone started rapping in Korean. Suddenly, the lights flashed on, the silhouettes of dancers on stage prominent. Three dancers stood in the middle of the stage, surrounded by backup dancers. The lighting changed as they danced, revealing Yong-sun, Oliver and Jupiter. They were dressed in black while the others were dressed in gray, making them stand out.


The way they moved was indescribable. Lincoln had always been an awkward dancer, walking the line between shitty and decent, ever since he was in high school. So watching the performance felt a little surreal as they moved in sync with each other and the beat.


Each move was done with practiced precision. Every backflip executed perfectly. When a deep voice came on singing “dirty clothes” and “rocking, rolling, swagging, swagger, wrong!”, the three dancers in front rolled their hips so scandalously Lincoln found himself wanting to glance back at the old ladies just to see their reactions. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dancers, but he could hear their gasps over the music.


Yong-sun got a dance solo, and he performed so differently than Lincoln imagined, innocence lost in the way he moved, lifting his shirt to reveal his abs and hip-thrusting into the air.


“Don’t look!” Tsuyoshi said, slapping a hand over Jackson’s eyes, who removed it just in time to watch Yong-sun end his solo with a quadruple backflip and drop down into the splits.


“I didn’t even know he could do that!” Jackson shrieked.


“Will you shut the fuck up?” Hajime scolded, reaching across Lincoln’s lap to slap Jackson on the arm. The lights flashed just in time to show him rolling his eyes and Jackson recoiling in pain. The deep voice starts again and this time Jupiter made his way to the front of the stage. He’s lifted in the air by two backup dancers before he’s catapulted upwards, flipping twice in the air before landing on his feet with the most suggestive smirk Lincoln’s ever seen. He’s re-dyed his hair, the purple much more vibrant under the stage lights.


He does some complicated move Lincoln could never replicate even if his life depended on it, then Oliver and Yong-sun joined him in the front, moves synchronized in a way that could only be the result of hours of hard work and practice. The last chorus came and went, and then a thunderous applause rang through the room as everyone stood up to clap. Jackson was screaming his head off and Xavier put his fingers in his mouth, whistling long and loud above the roar of the crowd. The dancers bowed all in a row with their arms around each other. The applause continued long after they walked off-stage.


“C’mon, we’re going to see them,” Jackson said, already rising out of his seat.


“Aren’t we gonna watch the other performances?” Lincoln asked as he was tugged out of his seat and through a side door into a brightly-lit hallway. He doesn’t receive an answer as they find backstage where the other performers are warming up.


“You came!” Lincoln suddenly has an armful of sweaty dancer and a mouthful of purple hair. He spat out Jupiter’s hair and shoved him away lightly, wrinkling his nose.


“You’re all sweaty,” Lincoln said. “And of course I did.”


“Link!” Yong-sun said happily, giving him a one-armed hug. He stood next to Jupiter, both with equally large, blinding smiles. “Did you like it?”


“You killed it!” Lincoln cried excitedly, unable to contain his joy.


“Kill?” Yong-sun asked questioningly. Jupiter muttered something in Korean and he smiled, confusion gone. “Oh, thank you!”


“Thank you for inviting me!” Lincoln replied, feeling pleased. He didn’t even feel bad about taking a break from work. He had intended to just leave work early but instead Theresa gave him the whole day off.


“I can’t believe you did your showcase piece to Spine Breaker,” Hajime said, coming up behind Jupiter and slinging an arm around his shoulders, seemingly unbothered by the amount of sweat covering the shorter boy.


“I love that song,” Jupiter pouted, turning to Lincoln. “Don’t you like that song?”


“I’ve never heard it before today,” Lincoln admitted. “But I did enjoy it, even though I really had no idea what they were saying.”


“It’s basically about a kid who lives with his parents even though he’s old enough to move out and he always asks for expensive things, causing his parents to practically break their spines working in order to afford them,” Tsuyoshi explained from where he was standing with Jackson and Xavier.


“It’s by Bangtan Boys or BTS if you want to listen,” Xavier offered. “They’re not really my style but they are talented. I just have no idea what they’re saying.”


“That doesn’t stop international fans from listening to them,” Jupiter stated, waving his hands like he had been verbally attacked. “It’s not hard to find English translations, they’re all over the Internet.”


“Not everyone’s dedicated to K-Pop like you,” Oliver said, appearing out of nowhere like a fucking ninja. He had a towel draped across his shoulders and was currently shoving one in Yong-sun’s face.


“You said you liked Agust D!” Jupiter squawked, looking like a little kid as he threw a mini temper tantrum. Oliver just shrugged and threw a towel at him. Lincoln felt flustered and shy even though he was already friends, possibly, with Oliver. He’d been listening to ButtonBrooks for over a year now and to think he was someone Lincoln knew was kind of unreal.


“Oh, hey Oliver!” Jackson leered, and Lincoln knew exactly what he was going to say before he even said it. Don’t you dare, Jackson whateverthefuckyourmiddlenameis Liang, I swear to God I will end your motherfucking life- “Linky over here is a big fan of yours!”


“Oh my god, I want to die,” Lincoln whined, covering his face with his hands.


“You’ve heard my music?” Oliver asked, sounding shy and what the actual fuck, Lincoln’s supposed to be the shy one here.


“And your ears didn’t bleed? Oh wow,” Jupiter chimed in, immediately shrinking when Oliver scowled at him. Oliver was kind of scary when he wanted to be, even though he was short. “I’m sorry I love you, don’t hurt me. Mom!” Jupiter scrambled to hide behind Tsuyoshi, who just rolled his eyes.


“They always make fun of me,” Oliver grumbled. “Anyway, thank you for listening to my music. You should come with me to the studio sometime.”


And with that, he walked away, leaving Lincoln awestruck and jaw agape. Going to the studio and listening to unreleased Button music in the making? Hell fucking yes. Jupiter came bounding towards him, high on adrenaline. Lincoln got tired just from watching him bounce all over the place.


“So how does it feel to discover Button is actually a fucking loser?” Jupiter laughed, still rocking on the balls of his feet with incomprehensible energy. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I love Oli’s music, he’s almost as good as Min Yoongi. Key word is almost, though.”


“I’m sorry, who?” Lincoln asked.


“Ah, he’s from BTS. He was the first rapper in the song we danced to,” Jupiter explained. I wasn’t paying attention to the song, I was paying attention to you, Yong-sun and Oliver, Lincoln thought. “Do you want to come to the afterparty?”


“Sure.” The answer came out of his mouth before he even had time to think about it. Mentally, he cursed himself for saying yes when he was so tired, despite the rare day off. The way Jupiter lit up at his answer forbade him from regretting it too much.


“I’m gonna go change! I’ll be right back,” Jupiter promised, dashing away. Lincoln stared after him for a moment before joining Hajime’s and Xavier’s debate on whether or not Tyler Joseph or NF was a better rapper. Xavier was rooting for Tyler while Hajime was defending NF. Lincoln liked them both so he chose to spectate for the most part, adding in his own comments occasionally. By the time they agreed to disagree, Jupiter was back and the showcase was ending. The three dancers disappeared to go back on stage once more and then they were exiting the venue together, laughing into the night.


“Our friend and fellow dancer Kieran is hosting the party,” Jupiter mentioned to Lincoln once they were outside. He had changed into a paint-splattered denim jacket over a black v-neck and ripped jeans. “He couldn’t be in the performance because of an injured ankle, but he promised to throw us a good party. All the performers are going.”


“Sounds fun,” Lincoln said, and Jupiter smiled at him once more before running to catch up to Jackson, who was ahead of the group. Lincoln looked around wildly and realized he had no idea what anyone was talking about. They had been joined by more people heading in the same direction, and he had lost sight of everyone he knew. For a moment, he caught a glimpse of Xavier, but he was surrounded by other people who talked to him even though he didn’t reply much. Lincoln still trudged along the sidewalk, keeping his head down.


It felt like every negative thought he’d ever had came crashing back down on him, crushing his ribs and weighing down his shoulders. It was as if an anvil had dropped on him out of nowhere. He felt shitty and self-conscious in an outfit that didn’t belong to him surrounded by people he didn’t know heading to a place he wasn’t sure he wanted to be. He didn’t want to bother the others to take him home, either, so he went along with it.


When they approached the house already vibrating with music, Lincoln didn’t feel like partying. In fact, he was starting to feel nauseous, the thought of too many people and the smell of alcohol that reminded him of the club. It’d be a dick move for me to leave, I’ll just stay for a little while.


He couldn’t make himself walk through the front door.

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