theme: o20. Glow.
“Stupid Saehee, tattling on me,” the ten-year-old boy muttered resentfully as he walked along the path amongst the tall grass, kicking a stone as he went. As he recalled how his little sister had run to their parents and told them that he was the one who had broken the flower vase, he unconsciously rubbed his bottom - sore and probably red still.
“Who goes there!?”
The boy stopped immediately as another boy jumped out from the tall grass, holding a long reed as if it were a sword; the tip of the bulrush just an inch from his nose.
“K-K-K-Kim Kibum,” The boy stammered, taking a step back from the offending plant.
“What are you doing near my creek?” The other boy demanded taking a step forward, pointing the bulrush to Kibum’s chest,
Kibum looked around, but all he could see was tall grass, “I… I don’t even see a creek.”
“What!? It’s right there!” The boy pointed towards grass beside them.
Kibum stared at the grass before giving the other boy a slanted look, “I don’t see it.”
The boy rolled his eyes as he grabbed Kibum’s hand and dragged him through the tall grass. Suddenly, the grass grew thinner until it opened up to a small creek, “See!”
“Oh,” Kibum muttered, “Well how do you expect me to see that from the path!?” He gestured towards the grass that was the same height as themselves,
“Everyone in Mokpo knows about the creek!” The boy exclaimed. Suddenly he dropped his reed and placed his hands on his hips. Kibum stood still as the boy suddenly started circling him, looking him up and down, “You’re not from around here are you?”
“Clearly if I don’t know about your creek,” Kibum said sarcastically as he turned towards the water’s edge and sat down on the grass there,
The boy opened his mouth to declare his territory again before deciding to just go along with it, “I’ll let you sit there this time. Next time, you should ask before you sit by my creek.”
Kibum blinked at the boy before chuckling, “Sure.” He paused as the boy looked out towards the horizon then checked the watch on his wrist, “Are you waiting for something?”
The boy nodded as he glanced out towards the setting sun. He suddenly plopped down on the bank near Kibum, “Pretty soon you’ll start to see fireflies!” He pointed out towards the other side of the small pool of water, “Once it gets a little bit darker you’ll really see them glow!”
“Really? I haven’t seen those since I use to live in Seoul,” Kibum said as he glanced towards the other boy, “By the way… what’s your name?”
The boy tilted his head confusedly, “I didn’t tell you?” Kibum shook his head, “Oh… well, I’m Lee Donghae!” He offered a lop-sided grin and a hand to shake.
Kibum chuckled again as they shook hands, “That’s funny, especially since Mokpo’s in the west.”
Donghae gave him a dark look before looking back out towards the water, “That’s all I’ve ever heard growing up. I think my parents had a twisted sense of humour when I was born.” He took off his sandals and dipped his feet into the cool water, “So what did you mean before about when you lived in Seoul? Where do you live now? Not here?” He gave a side-long glance, “There hasn’t been talk about a new family moving in.”
Kibum shook his head as he pulled up his legs and wrapped his arms around his upraised knees, “No, I’m just visiting my grandparents who live here. I use to live in Seoul, but last summer just a week after I turned ten we moved to America.”
Donghae’s jaw dropped as he looked at Kibum fully, “You live in America!? So you can speak English!?”
Kibum pinked at his words and merely nodded, keeping his gaze out towards the water. Suddenly, little lights began to appear on the other side of the creek; “Look there they are!”
Donghae pulled his gaze away from Kibum and he grinned, “I come out here every night just to see the fireflies.”
“Really? Why?” Kibum questioned,
Donghae shrugged, “It’s just peaceful out here and watching the lights fly around in the dark, it’s just calming. I know I shouldn’t be so excited over stupid things like fireflies, especially since I’ll be turning twelve but - they’re just secretly cool.”
Kibum laughed sceptically, “How can fireflies - bugs whose butts glow - be secretly cool?”
“Well, if you think about it, it’s so dark out here since we’re pretty far from Mokpo’s lights, but even though they’re so small, you can always see the fireflies.” Donghae paused a moment before laughing lightly, “I don’t know, I guess they just make me believe that maybe even a small-town guy like me can reach his dreams.”
“And what dreams could you possibly have at eleven?” Kibum inquired turning his gaze from the glowing bugs to Donghae,
“I want to be South Korea’s number one dancer,” Donghae said, his quiet words holding so much strength; “I’ll be a performer one day - everyone will know my name and know me for my dancing skills.”
“Are you good?” Kibum asked tentatively,
“I’m… I’m alright - for now,” Donghae sighed, “My best friend - Yunho - is better than me, but I practice with him a lot and he tells me I’m getting better every day.” Donghae leaned back on his palms as he tilted his head, watching the fireflies from afar, “It’s a pretty farfetched dream but those fireflies… they’re small but you see them no matter how dark - they make me believe.”
Kibum couldn’t help but smile; “Yeah, fireflies are secretly cool,” He agreed quietly as he leaned his chin on his knees and looked out towards the creek again.
It was a chance meeting between the two boys and when they parted ways that evening, they left saying a noncommittal ‘see you later’ to one another. However, as it turned out, when Donghae returned to his creek the following day at dusk, his thinking place had suddenly become too lonely. And for Kibum, as much as he loved his family, he really needed some peace and quiet at the end of the next day. So, despite never promising to meet again, the two ran into each other down by the creek the next day. And the day after. And the day after still.
Everyday for the rest of the summer break, Kibum would meet Donghae at ‘his creek’ and they would sit by the banks, waiting for the fireflies to come out. Some nights they would talk of nothing, both just needing the solace the creek brought them. Other nights they would rant and rave about their day, their lives or even their families.
It is unrealistic that in the timeframe of just a few weeks the two became best friends, however, at the tender ages of ten and eleven, it was quite realistic indeed. So realist in fact that at the end of August when Kibum had to leave Korea and return to America, Donghae grew angry and nearly inconsolable.
“Well why can’t you just live with your grandparents and go to school here!?” Donghae demanded angrily one late August evening by the creek,
“Because I want to live with my parents and even with Saehee. Because my life is back in America!” Kibum replied, crossing his arms over his chest and kicking a few stones into the water,
“It’s not fair!” Donghae exclaimed plopped down on the bank. He practically tore off his sandals as he plunged his feet into the cool water; “How are we supposed to be friends if you’re half-across the world!?”
“We can write to each other,” Kibum insisted, “That’s what my friends in Seoul and I do.”
“That never lasts,” Donghae muttered bitterly,
“It does to!” Kibum exclaimed, glaring down at Donghae,
“Oh yeah?” Donghae turned his head to glare up at Kibum, “When was the last time a friend from Seoul wrote a letter to you?” Kibum grew silent as he began to remember, “Well?”
“I… I don’t remember okay!” Kibum spat,
“Exactly,” Donghae said in a smug tone laced with bitterness, “So don’t pretend like we’re going to stay friends after you leave when it’s not going to happen.”
“Well if we’re not even going to try then why put-off saying goodbye? Why don’t we just say it now!?” Kibum demanded,
“Fine! Goodbye!” Donghae replied angrily, whipping back his gaze towards the creek.
“Goodbye!” Kibum huffed as he kicked one last stone into the water. He turned on his heel and disappeared between the tall grass.
After Donghae couldn’t hear him anymore, the fireflies began to appear and suddenly, a panic began to rise deep within him. He suddenly scrambled to his feet. He stared at the tall grass, but he heard nothing. He clenched his fists at his sides to stop the rest of his body from shaking and he bit down on his bottom lip to stop himself from crying.
Kibum walked through the tall grass with determination, shoving away shoots that got in his way. When he found himself on the path that ran parallel to the creek, he let out a sigh. He looked up and down the path, no one was there. He stepped out onto the path then paused. He turned his head, looking back to where he had just came. He held his breath still, waiting, listening, but he heard nothing. Fists clenched and eyes stinging, he burst into a mad dash down the path and away from the creek.
“Donghae! Come join the rest of us!” Eunhyuk stated joyfully as he came up beside Donghae.
Donghae turned to look at Eunhyuk. Super Junior had rented out an entire Chinese restaurant for their 3rd Anniversary since debuting. The restaurant opened out in the back to a veranda that overlooked a small backyard garden with a pond. Donghae, who had been off to one side of the veranda leaning against the red-pillar railings smiled at his friend before looking back out at the pond,
“You go ahead,” Donghae insisted, “I just want to wait a little bit longer,”
“What are you waiting for?” Eunhyuk asked as he leaned his palms on the waist-high railing and looking out at the pond, “I’m pretty sure the fishes and turtles will be sleeping by now.”
“Not them,” Donghae laughed lightly when his eyes suddenly saw them. He pointed towards the pond, “The fireflies.”
“How’d you know they’d be coming out soon?” Eunhyuk asked as he watched the little moving lights before turning his back on them,
“I use to be a fan of them when I was younger,” Donghae admitted before turning back towards the restaurant with Eunhyuk,
“Really? Why?” Eunhyuk inquired as the noise got louder as they got closer to the other members and crew that worked with them,
Donghae shrugged slightly and smiled as he caught sight of Kibum walking towards them, “They’re secretly cool.”
“Hey Kibum-sshi,” Eunhyuk said when Kibum reached them. He slung an arm around his dongsaeng’s shoulders, “Let me ask you a question. Donghae here says that fireflies are secretly cool - what do you think? I think he lacked imagination as a child to think that.”
Kibum stared at Donghae a moment before shrugging, “I could care less about fireflies.”
“See! You, my dear Donghae, should’ve read more books as a child,” Eunhyuk laughed as he released his hold on Kibum.
Donghae, ignoring Eunhyuk, stared at Kibum who glanced at him once before disappearing amongst the other members.
Later that evening after dinner and the karaoke began, Kibum excused himself to the bathroom. A five-count later, Donghae did the same. When Kibum came out of the stall buckling his belt, he was slightly startled to find Donghae leaning back against the bathroom door. Kibum glanced at him for a moment before turning to the counter with the sinks.
“So you do remember,” Donghae’s voice came low and dark.
Kibum turned off the faucet and reached for paper towels, “And it seems you’re not prone to amnesia,” he drawled as he leaned back against the sink counter, his hands gripping the edge,
“Why didn’t you say anything when we met as trainees,” Donghae demanded, crossing his arms loosely about his torso, “All these years since we became friends again… even when we debuted as Super Junior… why didn’t you say something?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Kibum countered easily,
Donghae narrowed his eyes, “Damn it - Kibum, you were my best friend!”
“Do NOT act like you’re the only one who felt that way!” Kibum grounded out, his knuckles whitening as he tightened his grip on the counter,
“THEN WHY DID YOU MAKE ME SAY GOODBYE!?” Donghae exclaimed, pushing off from the door, his fists now clenched at his sides, his dark eyes stinging with hot tears,
“BECAUSE YOU ALREADY GAVE UP ON US!” Kibum countered bitterly, standing up straight, his hands trembling at his sides as he bit down hard on his bottom lip,
“I didn’t! I just wanted you to be the stronger one!” Donghae argued, taking a step closer,
“I just turned eleven! You were almost twelve, you were older - you knew better!” Kibum defended as he too took a step closer,
“But you already knew how to say goodbye!” Donghae replied, his voice wavering, “You’ve left friends behind before…” he paused, taking a steadying breath, “All I’ve ever been was left behind… I needed you to be the stronger one- I needed you to make me believe we could stay friends.”
“Make you believe? I’m not a fucking firefly! I was eleven! How the hell was I supposed to figure THAT out!?” Kibum demanded, grabbing Donghae’s collar roughly with both hands.
Suddenly, the door burst open and Kangin entered guiding a drunk Ryeowook to one of the stalls. Kibum released Donghae immediately when the door had opened and had taken a step back. As Ryeowook crouched over a toilet, Kangin stood by the stall’s entrance being a good hyung. He glanced over at Kibum and Donghae curiously as he occasionally patted Ryeowook on the back. Before he could question either of them, Donghae stormed out of the bathroom and then a five-count later, Kibum left in a silent anger.
Later that evening, all the members left the restaurant and retreated to one of the dorms, they had decided to commemorate the evening by all sleeping in one dorm, in the living room. Donghae crawled out of his sleeping bag in the early hours of the morning and - while efficiently walking around all his hyungs and dongsaengs - escaped to the balcony. He breathed in the cool, late-autumn air as he crossed his arms atop the railing.
The glass door at his back suddenly slid open and then close, but Donghae didn’t move - he knew who it was. From the corner of his eye, Donghae could see Kibum lean his back against one side of the railing, his hands stuffed in his pyjama bottom pockets and his head turned towards the sleeping city.
“You were my best friend…” Donghae said quietly,
“You say it like we’re not friends now,” Kibum drawled in a low tone,
“It’s not the same and you know it,” Donghae muttered resentfully, “How can it be the same? Our past lies between us.”
“It doesn’t have to,” Kibum suggested tentatively, his gaze turning from the city to Donghae’s profile lit by the moon.
“Then tell me why you never said anything when we met again as trainees,” Donghae challenged, his voice quiet but steady,
“I was scared at first to ask if you were the same Lee Donghae I met the summer I turned eleven,” Kibum replied evenly, keeping his breathing still so his voice wouldn’t tremble, “And then when I learned you were from Mokpo, I was scared to ask because what if you didn’t remember that summer?” Kibum let out a slow, deep breath as he ran a hand through his hair. He was startled when Donghae looked over his shoulder at him, but continued in a steady tone, “If it wasn’t you or if you didn’t remember, it would be like losing my best friend a second time and… and I couldn’t handle that.”
Donghae saw the question in Kibum’s eyes, so he turned back to look out at the scenery as he answered, “Other than what you already said, I was still angry at you for leaving. My mind told me it wasn’t your fault, that you had to leave but my heart was still hurt and angry and… and I just couldn’t face you again. The way I saw it… if I asked you about the past, I was opening myself up to getting hurt again, to getting left behind again.” Donghae stared hard out into the night sky, hoping with all his might that Kibum couldn’t tell that he had tears in his eyes.
Kibum, now staring at his feet as a curtain of tears blurred his vision, grounded out, “If you didn’t want to be left behind, why didn’t you call after me that night by the creek? If you had… I would’ve… I would’ve came back.”
“I wanted to,” Donghae confessed, forcing strength into his voice, willing it not to break; “I wanted to but before I did, I stopped myself. I…I… I couldn’t hear anything. At first I had heard you walking away through the grass but when I turned to call after you, I didn’t hear anything anymore… you were already long… gone.”
Kibum snapped his head upwards, staring at Donghae’s profile, his jaw now trembling, “I waited for you.”
“What!?” Donghae spun around to face Kibum, one hand still holding onto the railing. He gripped it tightly as if it were the only thing keeping him up, giving him a strength he could no longer feel; “W-w-what do you mean?”
“I…I waited for you,” Kibum repeated tentatively, staring at Donghae through the hot tears that assaulted his eyes, “When I got to the path, I stopped and waited for you. I had hoped…wanted… needed to hear you call after me. But… but you didn’t. S-so I left.”
Donghae closed the distance between himself and Kibum. He pulled the cuff of his pyjama top over his palm and wiped at Kibum’s tears with it. He laughed softly, “Stupid.”
Kibum smacked his hand away, “You were crying too,”
“Not you - both of us,” Donghae explained as he wiped the last of Kibum’s tears away then returned to where he stood before. He crossed his arms on top of the railing, “Two grown men crying over something that happened so long ago,” he stated with a shake of his head, but his tone was bitter sweet, “Something that could’ve been prevented if we were braver.”
“We’re crying for our eleven-year-old selves and eleven-year-olds aren’t brave, I think we can be forgiven,” Kibum chuckled softly as he came beside Donghae and rested his elbows on the railing, clasping his hands together before him.
“Does… does this mean we’re okay now?” Donghae asked hesitantly, giving his childhood friend a side-long glance.
Kibum looked at him from the corner of his eye and offered a small smile, “Yeah. I think it does.”
Donghae let out a sigh of relief as he looked back out at the sky, just as it was slowly lightening with the waking sun, “I’m glad. Things are much more complicated when you’re adults - life, family, even arguments are more complex.”
Kibum crossed his arms atop the railing and leaned his chin on his arms, “Life was so much simpler when we were kids. I was getting tattled on by Saehee and you thought you owned a creek.”
“I did own it,” Donghae muttered before laughing lightly, “Yeah it was easier back then.” He sighed as he too leaned his head atop his crossed arms, “Fireflies were so much cooler when we were eleven.”
Kibum nudged Donghae’s elbow with his own, making Donghae look at him. Kibum offered him a smile, “Fireflies are still cool.”
Donghae couldn’t help but reciprocate with a smile of his own, “Secretly.”