theme: o79. The Same Old Thing
(Part of the For Two Series.)
One of Seoul’s most popular evening restaurants, Suju went almost into a frenzy when they celebrated the five-year anniversary of the restaurant’s opening, just six months after the owner’s twenty-third birthday. As a result of the celebration, patrons were informed that desserts that evening would be free, so long as they bought an appetizer and drinks.
“But this is what you ordered,” A waiter insisted to one of his customers,
“I’m pretty sure I’d remember what I ordered,” the customer retorted,
“I’m pretty sure you-”
“Yesung-sshi, is there a problem?” The head waiter whose shoulder-length hair was pulled back into a ponytail asked amicably, trying to mollify both customer and server,
“This waiter gave me the wrong order and the proceeded to insist this is what I ordered,” The gentleman said haughtily,
“What was your order? I’ll get it for you right away,” The head waiter insisted. When the customer repeated his order, the waiter nodded and pulled Yesung away with him,
“Heechul - you didn’t have to do that,” Yesung grounded out,
“Yes, I did,” Heechul replied as they stopped by the bar on the way to the kitchen, “That’s the fifth customer tonight you’ve picked a fight with.”
“He changed his order just now to make me look bad,” Yesung insisted, dark eyes narrowed,
“Look, I understand your frustrations and it’s true, the customer isn’t always right, but there’s no point wasting anger on their whims,” Heechul said calmly, “What’s wrong with you? You’re more stubborn and short-tempered than usual… it’s been like this for.. What? Five months now?”
Yesung said nothing.
“Okay, I know it’s busy, but all my tables have cleared for the moment. I’ll take over your tables and you take a fifteen minute break, okay?” Heechul suggested,
Yesung said nothing still, but walked off towards the back of the restaurant instead of the kitchens. Heechul assumed he was going out to the employees’ entrance that was located at the back of the restaurant’s building. Heechul sighed as he went into the kitchens and reordered the customer’s dish. He came out to the bar to survey the rest of Yesung’s tables,
“Eeteuk, you’re his best friend, what’s going on with him?” Heechul asked the bartender as his eyes swept over the customers,
“You said it’s been like this for five months? That’s when Kyuhyun cut back his hours and Shindong left, perhaps the overload of work is getting to him?” Eeteuk offered as he mixed more drinks, “We did hire another waiter to cover the hours Shindong usually worked, but that didn’t balance things since Ryeowook is now a host and waiter.”
Heechul sighed as his eyes fell upon the baby grand piano in one corner of the restaurant front. The pianist sat there, seemingly staring at the keys, but Heechul knew he wasn’t; the pianist was blind. He watched as someone walked from the kitchens to the piano, placing a glass of wine on the piano’s shelf. Hankyung, the head chef, spoke briefly to the pianist before retreating. He came and stood beside Heechul,
“Perhaps I should suggest to Shiwon to hire more people?” Heechul asked absent-mindedly as he watched the pianist - and owner of Suju restaurant, Shiwon - begin to play the piano,
“Tonight would be a good night,” The head chef agreed from beside him, “Shiwon-sshi is in a good mood to spend money, especially if he’s letting all desserts be free.”
“How’s the kitchen running tonight?” Eeteuk asked as he handed a bunch of drinks to a waiter who took them to their respective tables,
“Busy as always, I actually have to get back. With all the desserts in demand, we’re not used to it so I’ve been cooking tonight as well,” Hankyung explained before sweeping back into the kitchen.
“I always wondered why Shiwon would never start to play until Hankyung came and gave him a glass of wine,” Eeteuk wondered as he moved to the back counter to clean some glasses, “It only started a few weeks after he first came here two years ago.”
“I’ve asked - numerous of times,” Heechul muttered bitterly as he went into the kitchen. He emerged a few moments later with a dish,
“Did he ever tell you why?” Eeteuk asked, as if he had never left,
“He would just ask if I was jealous and then jump me,” Heechul scowled, “Anytime he refuses to tell me something he does that.”
Eeteuk laughed softly as Heechul went over to the gentleman from before and delivered his newly made dish. After a few words with the customer, Heechul made a few rounds around the tables Yesung had served to make sure the other customers were okay and then returned to the bar,
“Heechul… I don’t think Yesung got that guy’s order wrong,” Eeteuk said finally as he turned off his personal sink and began drying the glasses he had cleaned, “Yesung never lies and if he ever has a need to lie, he just wouldn’t say anything. And if he was never sure of something, he’d never say it for sure until he was 100% positive.”
“Honestly, I don’t think Yesung got the order wrong either,” Heechul admitted as he pulled out his ponytail and ran his hands through his mane-like hair, “But he needs to learn to pick his battles… and he’s been like this for the past five months.”
“I’ll… I’ll talk to him,” Eeteuk insisted,
“Thanks,” Heechul sighed, “I’m going to see how Ryeowook’s doing at the host podium. It’s been six months but I still feel he’s unsure of himself.” He turned to leave then paused, looking over his shoulder, “And Eeteuk-sshi?”
“Yes?” Eeteuk looked up from the glasses he was drying,
“We’ve been friends for five years now. I know Yesung’s secrets aren’t for you to tell, but next time just say that instead of lying to me,” Heechul stated bluntly,
“You’re a horrible liar,” Heechul shrugged, “I know he hasn’t been like this just because Kyuhyun’s part-time and Shindong’s gone.” With that, Heechul strode off towards the host’s podium was located, by the front entrance.
It was two in the morning when the restaurant closed for the evening; it would open once more at six in the afternoon later that day. Eeteuk placed the last of his glasses in the dish washer behind the bar counter which was reserved for the dishes that the bar used only. Rubbing the back of his neck wearily, he made his way to the back of the restaurant, going through the back hallways to the change room.
Opening up his locker, he took out his bag, and closed the locker again. As he walked through the employee parking lot behind the restaurant, he gingerly took out his car keys from his bag. Opening the door, he tossed his bag into the back seat and started the engine.
He rolled down the windows and just leaned his head back against the head rest and closed his eyes. He let the august breeze lick over his skin and he slowly inhaled the scent of the mid-august air. He heard the passenger door open, felt the car move as additional weight entered and then heard the door close,
“Do you want me to drive?” The familiar timbre asked him.
Eeteuk said nothing for a moment, allowing the soft bass with its coarse edge wash over him. Finally he shook his head as he straightened in his seat and opened his eyes,
“I was just resting my eyes, Yesung,” Eeteuk said as he pulled his seat belt across his body, “You can drive tomorrow.”
“You know I don’t have a car,” Yesung replied as Eeteuk pulled out of his spot and began driving away from the restaurant,
“Then I guess I’ll drive,” Eeteuk laughed softly.
Yesung rolled his eyes before moving the back of his seat in a slight angle and closed his eyes.
“Heechul’s right, you know,” Eeteuk said after a moment of silence between the two friends, “You’ve been on edge the past half year.”
“At least one of us is,” Yesung replied, turning his head and opening his eyes so he could look out his window at the night sky above them,
“You say that like I haven’t mourned,” Eeteuk defended quietly, “You saw how I was-”
“Yeah, for the first few days… then you went back to work and continued like nothing happened,” Yesung said, trying to not sound accusatory, “It’s just like what happened a year ago, when he was first diagnosed. You acted like everything was normal.”
“And what? You’d rather I yell at everyone at work? Snap at every customer that was rude? You quit every night for almost two weeks,” Eeteuk countered, a whisper of anger entering his words,
“But I didn’t bottle it up inside,” Yesung stated.
Eeteuk suddenly pulled the car to the curb and cut the engine. Yesung sat up straight and stared at him as he threw the door open and left the car. Immediately, Yesung scrambled out of the car as Eeteuk began walking away,
“Eeteuk wait!” Yesung ran the few steps away Eeteuk was and grabbed his arm, “Eeteuk!”
Eeteuk yanked his arm from his friend’s grasp and spun around to face him, “What’s the point in expressing anything? What’s the point in acting out how I feel? None of it will bring him back! None of it would have stopped the disease! None of it would have saved it! So what’s the point in wasting my energy in emotions that won’t benefit anyone?”
Yesung said nothing as he saw the pain etched in his hyung’s face. In truth, he knew how much his best friend was suffering on the inside, but he also knew that it would help him to express those feelings, rather than allowing them to fester and take control. He saw his friend on the edge of tears, so he grabbed his wrist and pulled him back to the car. He pushed Eeteuk into the passenger seat, shut the door after him, came around to the driver’s side and sat down.
“I just don’t want you bottling up your emotions,” Yesung said quietly as he started the engine and pulled away from the curb.
Silence fell upon them, but Yesung heard the staggered and reserved breathing beside him. From time to time, he spied his friend from the corner of his eye. Eeteuk was leaning in the reclined seat, his face turned the other way. But he could tell from Eeteuk’s breathing and the hand he was biting on that Eeteuk was fighting against his emotions as they clawed their way for freedom.
A few days later, Yesung woke up around noon as he was prone to do since he worked from six in the afternoon until two in the morning at the restaurant. Clad in his pyjamas and socks, he left his apartment and padded across the hallway to the opposite apartment, opening the door freely.
He picked up the coffee mug on the dining table that was set out for him and went to the living room, sitting on the couch beside Eeteuk who was eating a bowl of cereal, “Morning,” Eeteuk said through bites as his eyes were glued to the television screen,
“It’s not morning,” Yesung commented as he sipped his coffee, “What’s up?“
“Well we both just woke up, so it’s ‘morning’,” Eeteuk defending, “And the same old thing as usual. Cereal and television until I gather the strength to do something productive with my day.”
“You can’t say ‘morning’ when it’s almost one in the afternoon,” Yesung countered as he glanced at the television, “What show is this?”
“It’s almost one in the afternoon says the person drinking coffee and still in pyjamas,” Eeteuk countered, “It’s not a show. It’s a movie I’ve been wanting to watch, but it played last night while the restaurant was open so I taped it,”
“You’re in pyjamas too,” Yesung replied, “What’s the title?”
“I’m not the one against saying ‘morning’ at one in the afternoon,” Eeteuk defended, “Um… ‘Attack on the Flower Boys’.”
“It’s not one, it’s almost one,” Yesung corrected, “Oh? I like the actor who plays the lead singer in the band.”
“So picky over specifics, fine almost one,” Eeteuk rolled his eyes, “And you mean the actor who’s in it for… all of 5 minutes?”
“I’m not picky, but there’s a difference between almost one and one o’clock,” Yesung stated, “And he’s better than the guy who’s in the panda costume all of 3 minutes for the ending song.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll be sure to report the time correctly from this point,” Eeteuk insisted as he finished his cereal, “And don’t spoil the ending of the movie for me.”
“Like you don’t know what happens,” Yesung scoffed as Eeteuk got up to put his bowl in the kitchen sink.
As he sat there, his eyes wandered about the room. He had been there numerous of times - an uncountable amount even - and his eyes had wandered about the room all those numerous of times as well. However, in the past six months, he hadn’t done so. It wasn’t that he had gotten tired of looking at each aspect of the room: noting how the balcony door could use a rub down with glass cleaner; gazing at the pictures on the wall that were not level with one another; seeing the blinking light on the answering machine that noted there were messages awaiting to be heard…
No, he hadn’t gotten tired of looking around the room, if anything, he had become afraid. Scared to see these familiar details in Eeteuk’s apartment and then remember the memories associated with these details; hear his laugh, see his smile, listen to him talk - he was scared of all of this.
It had been five months since he died and Yesung had come to terms with that fact, but more often than not, he’d slip into instances of anger and unleash it on innocent victims - usually customers at the restaurant. It was always like this with him. He was stubborn and short-tempered, but he could usually control these urges in him; the last time he had done so was when his parents died when he was no older than ten.
Eeteuk came back and retook his seat on the couch, eyes back on the television screen as the movie continued. As Yesung sipped his coffee, he furtively glanced at Eeteuk once in awhile. Yesung had suffered a tragedy before, he knew how to handle his pain, even if it did mean being hot-tempered at work. Eeteuk, however, never faced a tragedy until five months ago. Yesung knew he didn’t know how to handle it and was worried.
“Hmm?” Eeteuk replied, not bothering to look away from the television,
“Have… you considered going back to school for the autumn semester?” Yesung asked hesitantly, “You have just two more years and you’d be done med school.”
“I wanted to be a doctor to help people… to save people,” Eeteuk said quietly, his eyes still glued to the television, but Yesung saw a peculiar light in their dark depths; “If medicine couldn’t save him, then me becoming a doctor won’t save people.”
“We’ve known each other since high school - all three of us… You know what med school meant to me-”
“It meant everything to you,” Yesung interjected,
“Not anymore… What meant everything to me is six feet under the ground,” Eeteuk abruptly stood up, “Excuse me…” With that, Eeteuk walked away.
Yesung sat on the couch motionless as he heard a door softly close and the clicking sound of a lock engaging. Yesung finished his coffee then went to the kitchen deposited the mug into the sink. With a fleeting glance to Eeteuk’s bedroom door, Yesung quietly escaped the prison of memories.
It was the last week of August when the staff at Suju were listening to the head chef explain the evening’s specials. Eeteuk stood behind the bar, preparing bottles and blenders and the sort for that evening. A young man approached the bar as Hankyung continued talking about the specials. The young man took a seat at the bar,
“I only see you on weekends, I’ve missed you Kyuhyun,” Eeteuk grinned at him,
“Yeah, it feels weird not coming here every night to work after school,” Kyuhyun, the head host, laughed softly, “I wish I could’ve been here for the 5-year.”
“You didn’t miss a lot,” Eeteuk insisted, “How has rehab been going?”
Five and a half years prior, Kyuhyun had been ambushed at the school he attended for being a piano prodigy. The culprits had broken all of his fingers one-by-one and Kyuhyun had walked away from the piano. Up until five months ago, Kyuhyun had worn bandages on all of his fingers for strength and support, but with the support of his boyfriend, he was able to return to the school he once attended and begin rehabilitating his hands.
Kyuhyun held up his hands, “They’re still not as they used to be, but I don’t need the bandages anymore for support.”
“That’s great to hear,” Eeteuk smiled, “Don’t let Shiwon hear you, he might try to get you to play the piano again.”
Kyuhyun glanced over his shoulder at the baby grand piano in the restaurant then looked back at Eeteuk, “I’m hoping he does… I’ve only been playing around my physical therapist and Sungmin,” Kyuhyun stated, a look of love lighting his eyes at speaking his boyfriend’s name; “If I play here, it’ll be the first time I played for an audience for the first time in over five and a half years.”
“I… I heard you play a few months ago,” Eeteuk admitted quietly,
Kyuhyun raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Really? When?”
“You were in here talking to Shindong. I had forgotten something behind the bar and when I came to get it you were playing,” Eeteuk explained, a peculiar light entering his eyes as he pulled out dishes from the bar’s dish washer, “You were… amazing. And considering that was before you went into rehab for your hands… well, I can only imagine how beautifully you play now.”
Kyuhyun’s cheeks pinked at the compliment and he gave a small nod in acknowledgement. He turned around on his stool, leaning his back against the bar counter to give the illusion he was listening to the head chef talk; “Shindong came back to Korea earlier this month.”
Eeteuk looked up from his work, “Oh? I never heard from him.”
Kyuhyun glanced over his shoulder at Eeteuk, “Don’t be hurt. I only knew because Sungmin told me. He’ll be returning to America in mid-September for the beginning of their semester.”
“What’s he doing back here? Is he going to visit at least?” Eeteuk asked as he leaned a hip against the bartender’s lower counter, crossing his arms loosely about his torso,
“He alluded to it to Sungmin, at some point before he leaves anyway,” Kyuhyun said as he turned his attention back to Hankyung just as he finished, the staff slowly breaking away to begin preparations for opening; “And apparently he’s engaged.”
“What!? He’s been gone a little more than five months and he’s already engaged?” Eeteuk gaped,
“Who’s engaged?” Heechul asked as he wandered over, his arm slung around another man, “Oh, Kyuhyun, I want Ryeowook here to be host with you tonight. I know usually when you work he’s back to waiter duties, but this way he’ll get more practice and you can help him in any areas he needs help.”
Kyuhyun nodded as Ryeowook rolled his eyes and stepped away from the head waiter, “Who’s engaged?” Ryeowook prompted,
“Shindong-sshi,” Kyuhyun replied, “But apparently it’ll be a long engagement still. He came home to introduce her to his parents. Ah- Boss!” Kyuhyun suddenly stood and bowed to a man who stepped out from the back of the restaurant.
The man was dressed in a suit of darkest night, his hair styled in the latest fashion. He turned to where he heard the voice and dimpled, “Kyuhyun-sshi, I do miss hearing your voice every night.”
The others greeted the man in turn, bowing despite the fact that he did not see them bow, “I miss seeing you - Boss! Ah, Shiwon-sshi, Shindong’s getting married!”
Owner of the Suju restaurant, Shiwon raised an eyebrow in curiosity, “Oh? That’s great!” His smile grew as his cheeks dimpled, “It’s always good to see someone as young as Shindong-hyung ready to permanently commit himself to someone.”
Eeteuk, Kyuhyun and Ryeowook stared as Shiwon definitely turned his eyes to Heechul then turned on his heel and retreated into the back of the restaurant where his office was located.
Heechul watched until Shiwon was out of sight, “I don’t know how he does that,” Heechul scowled, “And if it weren’t for the medical records, I’d question him on his blindness.”
Ryeowook laughed, “Hyung are you two fighting again?”
“I wish,” Heechul rolled his eyes, “If we were fighting he wouldn’t randomly jump me, trying to convince me why we should… make our relationship… official.”
Eeteuk blinked, “You don’t want to? But I thought you love Shiwon.”
“I do,” Heechul crossed his arms, “But we’ve only been together for eleven months. Hankyung and Kibum waited a year before they just moved in together.”
Suddenly a hand came over Heechul’s month and clamped down on it hard, “Keep your voice down!”
Heechul pushed the hand from his mouth and glared at the sous chef who had come up behind him while he was talking, “Kibum, if you STILL think that NO ONE knows that you and Hankyung-sshi are together, after almost two years… You. Are. Delusional!”
“Don’t say that to him, he was so giddy in thinking everyone was blind,” The head chef came up to the group, smiling,
“Giddy?” Eeteuk raised a curious eyebrow,
“He means ‘happy’ and that everyone was ‘oblivious’,” Kibum corrected. After working at the restaurant for two years and living with Kibum for a year, Hankyung’s Korean had gotten better, but once in awhile he still slipped up.
“Well, we have work to do in the kitchen,” Hankyung excused them as he grabbed Kibum’s hand and led the way into the kitchen, all the while Kibum struggling to free his hand from Hankyung’s firm grip.
As Kyuhyun and Ryeowook walked off to the host’s podium by the front doors, Eeteuk watched as the waiters moved around the restaurant making sure each place setting was perfect. His eyes specifically followed the hard-headed waiter he called his best friend.
“Is he in a better mood today?” Heechul asked, his attention now drawn to Yesung who was placing down cutlery on a table,
“I don’t know. He lets his emotions rule him so…” Eeteuk ended with a slight shrug.
“Hyung… is Yesung upset over… Kangin-sshi’s death?” Heechul asked tentatively, suddenly avoiding his eyes;
Eeteuk froze in his movements at the sound of that name. For years that name had brought nothing but warmth that would flow over him like warm milk. Now, it felt like ice flowing through his blood, painful as shards were pumped through his heart. Those at the restaurant whom he considered friends had met Kangin, they even went out together outside of work with him. They also knew that Kangin had died five months ago.
“Probably,” Eeteuk replied, his voice suddenly quiet, “You remember what Yesung was like when Ka…. When he was first diagnosed a year ago.”
“Yeah, he stormed into Shiwon’s office every night in an attempt to quit… he was irrational for some time,” Heechul recalled,
“That was the only time I heard him lie, and they weren’t even lies, he was just… paranoid from his emotional overload,” Eeteuk said as he began stacking and arranging wine glasses on the back counter of the bar,
“What about you Eeteuk? Are you going through emotional overload?” Heechul asked tentatively,
“I’m…” He paused when his gaze locked with Yesung’s. For a brief moment it was just the two of them and then Yesung looked away; “I’m fine.”
Heechul, who had seen the exchange, merely nodded quietly and then left.
“You’re in love with him.”
Yesung nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden disturbance. On his break he had escaped to the steps of the employees’ entrance, sitting in the quiet night. He was floating through a reverie of thoughts when that voice had interrupted him, harshly pulling him back to reality,
“With who?” Yesung asked as Heechul came and sat beside him on the steps,
“Eeteuk,” Heechul stated as he lit a cigarette, “He may not realize it, but I did earlier. Is this why you’ve been on edge for so long?”
Yesung sighed heavily, “Yes.”
“Hmm… I thought it was because of Kangin-sshi’s death this whole time,” Heechul said lightly before taking a slow drag from his cigarette,
“It was… the first month,” Yesung replied,
“And the other four?” Heechul prompted,
“I’ve liked Eeteuk for as long as I could remember, even when we were in high school together with Kangin. When they got together when Eeteuk graduated high school, I put my feelings on the back-burner because they were my friends and I was going to support them,” Yesung explained,
“And now that Kangin’s gone?” Heechul asked hesitantly,
“I still want to support Eeteuk, especially now that Kangin’s gone, but Eeteuk hasn’t mourned and it’s keeping him in a state of… of suspension almost,” Yesung said,
“The week after Kangin died, he was devastated-”
“Yes, but after that he acted like nothing happened, like he was okay,” Yesung interjected, “I know he’s not! He’s letting all of his feels stay bottled inside. It does nothing but further consume him and he’ll never be able to begin healing until he comes to terms with Kangin’s death and move on.”
Heechul remained quiet a moment as he took another puff of his cigarette. He turned his eyes to the sky, “I agree with you, Yesung. When I realized Shiwon had given up his sight just so I could have mine back, I had felt such all-consuming guilt for months. I couldn’t understand why I was so upset over it and yet Shiwon acted as if nothing.”
“But what does that have to do with this?” Yesung asked,
“You are like Shiwon. He was able to move on from what happened so quickly because he went through the motions of grieving, of acceptance, just as you did that first month after Kangin died,” Heechul explained, “Eeteuk is like how I was. I was filled with remorse for so long simply because I couldn’t accept how things happened, I couldn’t acknowledge it. When I finally did, it felt good to purge my feelings. I was finally able to let go of my guilt.”
“How did you purge?” Yesung inquired,
“I talked to Shiwon. He explained what being blind was like and how he adjusted to it. He explained for the millionth time why he had done it and why he doesn’t regret it. As much as I hate to admit it, I cried like a girl for hours during this talk,” Heechul confessed as he took another drag of his cigarette, “But afterwards, it felt good.”
“That’s all? You just… talked it through and cried?” Yesung asked,
Heechul nodded, “That… and begged his mother for forgiveness on his birthday.”
A small smile touched Yesung’s lips, “Yeah… I think we all remember that scene.”
On their way in from their break, they came across Shiwon who was entering his office, “I was looking for you.”
“Did you just finish playing?” Heechul asked, regretful, “You should’ve told me you were playing, I wanted to hear you.”
Shiwon gave him a peculiar look, “Seems not to faze you too much since you got to smoke while you were on break,” he narrowed his eyes, “You quit months ago,”
“Yes, and you trying to get me to marry is making me take it up again,” Heechul defended,
“Then forget I said anything,” Shiwon snapped as he stormed into his office, the door slamming after him.
Yesung blinked from the door to Heechul. Heechul sighed heavily, “Go ahead without me. I think it’s time I have another talk with Shiwon.”
Yesung nodded as he smiled teasingly, “Are you going to cry like a girl again.”
Heechul shot him a look then disappeared into the office. Yesung glanced at the door and felt a pang in his heart. Whenever the owner and Heechul fought, it was always fierce, but he knew they loved each other regardless. He wanted that for himself. He turned and continued back to the front of the restaurant.
Heechul leaned his back against the close door, watching Shiwon sit at his desk, arms crossed over his chest, “Shiwon…”
“That was my first cigarette since I quit, and I was feeling stressed from you constantly talking about marriage.”
“Then let’s talk about it instead of you lighting up another one,”
“I know, that’s why I’m here.” Heechul pushed off from the door and sat in one of the chairs before the desk, “I love you, you know that.”
“Then why don’t you want to marry?” Shiwon demanded,
“We’ve been together eleven months-”
“Shindong’s been gone five and already he’s engaged-”
“Yes and it’s going to be a long engagement. If we get engaged you want to get married within the next year!” Heechul defended,
“And what’s wrong with that?” Shiwon questioned,
“It’s too soon!” Heechul exclaimed as he got from his chair, slamming his palms on the desk, “How many times do I have to tell you that it’s too soon!?”
“Why? Why the hell is it too soon!?” Shiwon demanded,
“Shiwon this is my first serious relationship. I’m used to fooling around a number of people and whenever something went wrong with those people I didn’t care because I didn’t care about them! But I care about you. I love you,” Heechul declared, “I don’t want to mess up our relationship! This is the one relationship I don’t want something to go wrong in and this is the only relationship that if we break up, I won’t be able to go on.”
“Getting engaged and marrying won’t ruin our relationship,” Shiwon scowled,
“It might. We’ve barely reached a year together - I want to take things slow because I don’t want to take any chances with this. I don’t want to risk anything - I don’t want to lose you,” Heechul stated, his heart beating painfully in his chest, “All of my relationships in the past didn’t work out because I didn’t take the time to care, because I rushed into things. I don’t want that to happen to us.”
Shiwon held out his hand. Heechul took it and walked around the desk until he stood between Shiwon and the desk, “I understand,” Shiwon said quietly as Heechul sat on the desk. “I won’t rush anything if it worries you,” He promised as he moved closer to the desk, his hands coming to rest on Heechul’s hips.
Heechul cradled Shiwon’s face in his hands. Despite sitting on the desk and Shiwon sitting in a chair, Shiwon’s head still came up to his heart. Heechul searched Shiwon’s face for a moment, peering into sightless, dark eyes,
“Shiwon… why do you want to get married so fast?” Heechul asked quietly,
“When my father died three years ago, he was fifty-seven. Him and my mother got married when he was thirty. My mom always lamented on how they wished they could’ve married younger, been together for much longer. I don’t want that with us,” Shiwon explained quietly,
Heechul felt, rather than saw, the pain that filled Shiwon that moment. In that moment he wanted to do everything to take away his pain, even if it meant throwing away his previous cautions; “Shiwon… what if we do get engaged… but we don’t get married right away?” When the words left his lips, he suddenly felt a sense of security he had never felt before. Pledging his life to this man before him didn’t make him feel insecure and vulnerable as he thought it would. Instead, it made him feel safer than he ever felt. Heechul realized he meant every word.
“But, you said you wanted to take things slow,” Shiwon said, his face looking up at Heechul despite not being able to see him,
“And you want to get married… It’s called compromise, I heard that’s what makes a relationship work,” Heechul smiled down at him.
In response, Shiwon reached up and pulled Heechul’s face down to his for a kiss.
When Yesung returned to the restaurant front, he was relieved to see that it hadn’t gotten busier while he was on break. He walked over to the host’s podium where Ryeowook stood, looking over the touch-screen computer imbedded into the podium,
“Any customers for me?” Yesung asked,
“No one’s come in for the past half hour,” Ryeowook replied, “Kyuhyun actually sent another waiter on break since it’s so slow tonight.”
“Where is-” Yesung trailed off, when his question was beginning to be answered.
Slowly, the restaurant began to be filled by a slow, smooth melody. Quiet at first, it washed over everyone like warm honey. The sweet melody began to increase in tempo slightly and the notes that bounced off the walls invoked an intensity one would never assume could be brought on by a piano. Yesung’s eyes moved to the body sitting at the baby grand piano.
Since the restaurant opened, Shiwon had been the pianist, despite being the owner of the restaurant. His music had always set a calm and intimate atmosphere amongst the guests. This time, as the head host played, the air was suddenly filled with an unnamed emotion. The music swirled about each individual, allowing each person’s heart to determine what that emotion was to them.
There were a few times when Yesung heard a jerky part in the melody, and he knew it was attributed to Kyuhyun’s healing hands. However, he still played beautifully and he couldn’t fathom what emotions Kyuhyun could bring out of a person once he played at his full potential.
“I… I thought Shiwon played,” Yesung murmured, unable to pull his eyes away from the pianist,
“He did, and when he left to return to his office, Kyuhyun asked if he could play. Shiwon was so happy he went in search of Heechul, but he hasn’t come back,” Ryeowook glanced towards the hallway that lead to the bathrooms and the back of the restaurant.
Yesung divulged nothing as he felt the music seep into him, capture his heart and squeeze it painfully. He felt a lump form in his throat and the hot threat of tears in his eyes. He steadied his breathing and tried to draw strength from each slow inhale.
A sudden smash of glass pulled Yesung from the young pianist’s spell. His eyes immediately whipped towards the bar where the sound had come from. Eeteuk stood there, his hands in mid-air as if he was once holding something. Yesung scanned the restaurant and was relieved that no one else had noticed Eeteuk’s folly. Thankful that Kyuhyun’s music was so enrapturing and regretful that he couldn’t remain wrapped in the music, Yesung quickly crossed towards the bar.
He came behind the counter and saw the offending martini glass and its contents scattered at Eeteuk’s feet. Yesung slowly approached him and when he placed a hand on Eeteuk’s hand, the bartender physically jumped away from him. Startled, Eeteuk gazed at Yesung with wide eyes. Yesung saw the way Eeteuk’s small frame trembled and how his eyes were glazed over with fat tears.
“Get him out of here,” a rushed whisper came to Yesung. He glanced towards the hallway that led to the back. Heechul had emerged from the corridor, “Lock him in the change room, take him home - I. Don’t. Care. Just get him out of here and fast.”
“It’s slow tonight, I don’t need you and I can cover the bar,” Heechul insisted, “Just tell Shiwon you’re both leaving if you decide to do so. He’s in a good mood, so don’t worry.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Yesung turned Eeteuk the other way and propelled him to the back of the restaurant, muttering a quick thanks as they moved past the head waiter.
Standing outside of the change room, Yesung held the door open for him, “Wait for me here.” When Eeteuk didn’t move, Yesung placed a hand at the small of his back and gave him a firm but small push. After he saw the door close after Eeteuk, Yesung walked down the hall to the owner’s office. He heard the owner call out and Yesung opened the door,
“Shiwon-sshi,” Yesung bowed as always,
“Yesung, is there a problem?” Shiwon asked, hearing the alertness in the waiter’s voice,
“Yes um… Eeteuk needs to leave and I… I should go with him,” Yesung explained hesitantly,
Shiwon tilted his head as if he could regard Yesung with his sight. All the same, he nodded, “Take care of him, Yesung.”
As if in a trance, Eeteuk moved towards his locker and leaned his forehead against the cool metal. Despite being far from the piano’s music, Eeteuk could still hear the music haunting him. As Kyuhyun played, Eeteuk felt something come over him. At first, he was unable to name what it was. It calmed him and slowed his heart. Suddenly, it felt as if his heart was no longer beating, felt as if he was cold all over and he was able to name the emotion: heart break.
His memories flashed in the darkness of his mind and Eeteuk felt tears trek courses down his cheeks. He felt a pain in his chest as his heart struggle to beat, struggled to pump his blood. But he felt the ice in his blood and knew that his heart could no longer stand it, no longer had the strength to force the shards of ice through his vessels.
The pain spread throughout his chest, tightening around him like thick rope, making it hard to breath. He tried to gasp for air and felt his lungs failing him. His body began to tremble more as he struggled for even a puff of air. His body was racked with silent cries as the screams he wanted to let out suffocated him, forming a large, painful lump in his throat.
Suddenly, a pair of warm arms turned him around and wrapped about him. His heart jumped at the sudden heat, hopeful that it had found what it was waiting for. However, threw a veil of tears, Eeteuk confirmed that his heart had believed a false hope. He felt his heart twist again, this time even more painfully, but his body relished from the sudden warmth, allowing him to breath again. With his first intake of air, his cries found its voice and it echoed in the changing room.
The arms tightened around him protectively and Eeteuk buried his face in his best friend’s shoulder as his screams were stifled in his shirt.
He wasn’t sure how much time passed, but slowly, Eeteuk’s cries became comprehensible and Yesung was able to make out his choked, jagged words; “I… miss… Kangin.”
Yesung shut his eyes tightly, fighting his own urge to cry as he embraced his friend more securely. He shoved his feelings once more onto the back-burner, feeling the flames consume those emotions painfully. With a strength he didn’t feel, Yesung managed a few words; “I do too…”
The sun was high in the sky by the time Eeteuk woke up the next day. He recalled how Yesung had rushed him out of the restaurant and brought him back to their apartment building. Eyes puffy and sore, Eeteuk padded out of his bedroom to the living room. As he sat down on the couch, Yesung came out of the kitchen with a cup of coffee in his hand.
Eeteuk took one quick assessment of Yesung to realize he was still in his uniform from the other night.
“I… I didn’t want to leave you,” Yesung explained simply when he saw Eeteuk look him up and down. He handed the mug to Eeteuk and sat beside him on the couch. “I know last night was painful for you Eeteuk… but I’m glad you cried.”
Eeteuk gave him a quizzical look, but said nothing as he took a sip of the coffee, allowing the hot liquid to warm his body.
“You’ve been bottling up your emotions these past few months and I was getting worried. If… if you don’t allow yourself to go through the motions of expressing your feelings, you’re just hiding from them and… and you’ll never be able to move on,” Yesung explained as he stared at his hands in his lap. “If… if you can’t express your feelings, then you’ll never be able to remember Kangin-sshi without crying. You’ll never be able to remember the happy memories because all you’ll ever think of are the sad ones.”
“What if I can’t move on…” Eeteuk said quietly, his voice hoarse as he stared into his coffee.
“You can’t continue living in what once was, Eeteuk,” Yesung stated, startled at the angry edge in his own voice, “Kangin died and it hurt me too! He was my best friend too!”
“But I loved him!” Eeteuk exclaimed, slamming the mug on the table, “I still do! That’s why I can’t move on! That’s why I keep my feelings as they are because I refuse to forget, I refuse to-”
“Then love me instead!” Yesung interjected passionately as he jumped to his feet. The words left his lips before he even realized it. As his words echoed in his own ears, Yesung felt his heart hammering against his ribs painfully. He stared down at his hyung, the shock registering in his eyes. “Kangin may be gone, but there’s still someone here who’s in love with you. For… for as long as he had loved you.”
Their gazes locked for what could only be described as a painful eternity. Yesung felt like he couldn’t look away and yet Eeteuk refused to break the contact. Yesung felt his heart slow down, but each beat slammed against his rib cage, the pain reverberating throughout his body. During that time, all sounds and images of everything around them melted away and it was just them in a suspended limbo.
Then it happened. Yesung saw the shift of the light in Eeteuk’s eyes before his heart could prepare itself. When he saw it, he knew what Eeteuk would say next. Instead, he forcibly pulled himself away from the connection, stumbling against the corner of the couch as he did so. He ran from the apartment as fast as his legs could carry him, as fast as his strength would allow. He shut the door firmly behind him and collapsed against it, allowing himself for the first time to hold in his emotions.
Eeteuk watched the door shut after his best friend. What little warmth his body absorbed from the coffee immediately dissipated with Yesung’s words and his own thoughts. His body ached as he slowly rose from the couch and walked over to the opposite wall where picture frames were unevenly hung.
The frames on this wall seemed to form a box around a frame in the middle that was bigger than the others. With trembling fingers, he reached out and his finger tips grazed the smooth, black frame. As if unable to control himself, his fingers caressed over the cool glass, attempting to find warm at the smiling faces beneath the clear protection.
He felt his heart revive itself from the touch, but all it pumped was ice. It froze over everything within him, encasing his core in a layer of thick, endless cold. His lungs were functioning again, but all they breathed in was sharp, cold air that seemed to lacerate his throat, making it painful to breath. The strength slowly seeping away from him and seemingly into the picture, his body began to tremble in an attempt to regain some semblance of warmth; of happiness.
With dry lips, he mouthed his beloved’s name as his unsteady hand took the frame from its hook on the wall. Shaking horribly now, he dropped to his knees, cradling the picture frame against his heart. Crumpled against the wall, he slammed a fist against it as the eyes he thought were cried out, were assaulted once more with white hot tears.
It was a few hours later when Eeteuk was back at work, setting up the bar for the evening. He watched as a specific waiter ignored him while the head waiter watched him with cautious, worried eyes. Before departing from his apartment to come to work, he had knocked at the door across from his. He knocked for almost a quarter of an hour before he finally gave up and descended the building. Driving to work with the passenger seat empty affected him in ways he didn’t anticipate.
That night was busy. Eeteuk felt as if he didn’t stop moving that entire night, making drink after drink and cleaning dish after dish. What little words he did share with Yesung that evening was restricted to only orders from customers. His thoughts swirled in his head with what had transpired between them and they intruded on his work. More often than not, Eeteuk had to remake several orders.
When he saw Kyuhyun make his way towards the piano, Eeteuk watched with bated breath. Similarly, he could feel the eyes of his best friend watching him, instead of the pianist. As Kyuhyun began to play, Eeteuk felt the same calming feeling as before. However, this time, the calmness did not go away and the pain he felt the other night was less. An image of his love passed in his mind and Eeteuk was able to name the emotion he felt from Kyuhyun’s playing: yearning.
He felt his heart beating slower again, but this time, he didn’t feel the accompanying slashes of ice. Instead, whatever coldness he did feel, spread through his heart that tingled him and cleared his thoughts. The yearning the music invoked was laced with a serenity he hadn’t felt for almost a year. Soon, he was remembering things that happened more than a year ago, before all the sadness entered his life. He felt the sting of tears again, but this time, a small smile graced his lips. He felt wisps of warmth wrap around his heart at those memories. Slowly, ever so slowly, he continued working, but this time when he lost himself in the music, he didn’t lose his heart along with it.
It wasn’t until after the restaurant closed when Eeteuk got a chance to talk to Yesung. He waited just inside of the employees’ entrance for him, his bag slung over his shoulder. Leaning his back against the door frame, he closed his eyes and tilted his face up to the velvet sky. The past two days exhausted him emotionally and yet, he felt better than he had in months.
“I was glad when you were able to hold your own when Kyuhyun played.”
Eeteuk opened his eyes and slowly turned to face Yesung who stood just outside of the change room. A silent moment fell between them, unperturbed when the head waiter brushed between them to enter the change room. Finally, Eeteuk took a deep, steadying breath and broke the silence.
“I’m sorry Yesung. You’re my best friend and I do love you, but not in the way that you want,” Eeteuk confirmed, his voice firm but gentle. “I’ve thought to myself these hours since you left my apartment and I let myself mourn Kangin’s death again… and I probably will continue to mourn him over the next few weeks. I realized however when Kyuhyun was playing, that the more I mourn for him, the less pain I’ll feel afterwards. You were right and soon I won’t need to mourn.”
Yesung said nothing as Eeteuk suddenly turned to look out the door towards the night sky, “However, even though I’ll come to accept what has happened and even though I will heal from this… I can’t move on. I realized that I can’t move on because I don’t want to. I loved Kangin and I still do. It is a love that has encompassed me for so many years that my heart cannot survive without it; I cannot survive without it.”
Yesung felt as if he had been slapped in the face. He felt as if he had been punched in the stomach and all of the wind had been knocked from him. He felt as if the world was crumbling away from him and the one person who could stop it was just a few feet away. And yet, he couldn’t call out to them for help.
Eeteuk slowly turned around to face Yesung again, a small, sad smile gracing his lips, “It’s not fair for someone for me to be with them but have no room for them in my heart.” He looked away and softly laughed at himself, “I know Kangin wouldn’t want this for me and wouldn’t ask this of me… but this is what I want from myself… this is what I ask of myself.” He sighed heavily before forcing himself to look at Yesung once more, “I do not love you, not because of you, but because I cannot love anyone else but Kangin… He is both my love and my soul mate. There can be no one else. There is no one else. And for that… I am sorry.”
Yesung looked away for a moment. When he looked back at Eeteuk, a semblance of a smile was on his lips, “If you’re healing, then I am happy. If you feel that one day you will no longer cry, then I am happy. When I watched you when Kyuhyun played this evening, I was worried… I was scared. But the longer I watched, the more I realized I didn’t have to worry anymore… I didn’t have to be scared anymore. I thought to myself ‘He’s going to be okay’ and… and that was enough,” Yesung declared, a strength in his voice that was unfounded, “That… is… enough.”
“Are we still friends?” Eeteuk asked hesitantly, knowing he was selfishly asking for everything with that simple question.
Yesung’s smile grew bigger and he nodded, “Best friends.”
Eeteuk’s body physically sighed with relief, “I’ll wait for you at my car?”
Yesung nodded and watched silently as Eeteuk turned and disappeared beyond the entrance doors. He turned and went into the change room. The moment the door closed behind him, all strength left him and he felt the ground rushing up towards him. Arms caught him before he fell, holding him up, protecting him from all other things.
“It’s okay… I’m here,” Heechul’s voice whispered in his ear.
Yesung was limp in his arms and didn’t have the strength to hug back. His body trembled as he fought against his raging emotions. Heechul embraced him tighter, whispering words meant to soothe his friend. Yesung bit down hard on his bottom lip, not allowing any cries to escape. He clenched his fists at his sides to force his body from shaking.
“It’ll be okay.” Heechul insisted quietly,
Yesung heard nothing as he pushed his feelings to the back-burner once more, allowing the flames to engulf them and incinerate the remaining vestiges of his heart.