“Come on, Kyuhyun, say ‘ah’,”
Cho Kyuhyun, in reply, shot the other man a dark glare as he turned away and continued wiping down the counter. The other man continued to pester him, however, despite Kyuhyun’s steady silence. When the other man finally stopped and put the spoon he had been offering into his own mouth with a slight pout, Kyuhyun barely suppressed the urge to roll his eyes.
He’s a fish. A fish you can kill to make sushi. No! Do not give into the urge to kill. Think of him as a puppy. You do not hurt puppies, Kyuhyun thought.
How could this other man possibly be two years his senior? And, yet, with his dark, shaggy hair and bright, boyish smile, Lee Donghae was indeed older than him.
“You should at least accept it when someone offers you food,” Donghae replied as he pointed the spoon at him,
“I’m supposed to be orientating. It’s not the time to eat,” he answered as he tossed the rag into a bin marked ‘laundry’ beside the large industrial sink.
Their work was a small ice cream store not far from the university campus where Kyuhyun studied and lived. While he did need the extra money to help with living expenses, working in the store had not been his first choice, nor his ideal. The shop itself had black and white tiled floors and the walls were painted a pale pink colour. The long counter which ran the entire length of the store had a glass-covered freezer which showed off only eight of their boasted thirty-five available ice cream flavours and glass displays full of an assortment of cookies, brownies and other such baked goods for sale. High above the back counter with its large sink and stainless steel countertop were large black boards, the menu displayed in pastel-coloured chalk in rounded font. Despite feeling as if he stepped into a cotton-candy machine every time he came into work, he was slightly relieved that the uniform itself consisted of a black golf-shirt with the store’s logo embroidered over his heart and any black pants he owned.
The reason for his current employment was his co-worker. Kyuhyun had met Donghae in his calculus class. According to the other man, Donghae just needed his calculus credit to finish his degree, having finished the rest of his classes two years prior. When he realized that the older man had procrastinated from finishing one class for two years, Kyuhyun was immediately disinterested in beginning an acquaintanceship. How could he approve of such idleness? Laziness? What he failed to calculate however, was that Donghae was a resilient force and continued to sit beside him in lecture until Kyuhyun, realizing the other spoke less if he reciprocated the conversation, finally accepted his friendship.
“Kyuhyun! How do you expect to work here if you don’t even know what you’re selling?” Donghae queried, placing a hand over his heart in the over-the-top dramatic way he did most things.
“We sell ice cream! There’s not that much variance of taste between different ice cream brands,” he answered,
“We also sell other things,” the older man gestured to the baked goods, “I know it’s your first day, but please try to remember, Kyuhyun: we’re a treatery and ice cream shop. The word order is important.”
“Why when we have so much more ice cream compared to the rest of the menu?”
“That’s why I’m telling you to try the food!”
“Please remind me why I agreed to work here,” Kyuhyun sighed as he leaned his hip against the back counter, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger in a sign of increasing frustration,
Donghae scoffed, “You were allowed to work here, Kyuhyun. You may not appreciate it, but there were quite a few applicants for this job opening.”
“I don’t see why. We haven’t had a customer and we’ve been open for four hours already!” When Donghae just raised a brow at him, Kyuhyun sighed, “Okay, okay, I do appreciate getting the job. It’s accommodating to my school schedule and the pay is quite good considering all we do is sell ice cream.”
A gentle ringing interrupted their conversation. The one thing Kyuhyun was grateful of their lack of customers was that he wouldn’t have to hear the bell above the door ring so often. He straightened his posture immediately and took in the sight of the young man who walked through the door. Dressed in black slacks and a white button-up with his chocolate brown hair slicked neatly from his forehead, the other man was only missing a tie and blazer to complete an otherwise perfect example of a business man.
What the heck is he doing in this kind of place? Kyuhyun was glad he had good control of his facial expressions as the young man approached the counter.
“Donghae! How’s business today?” The young man asked, his voice light and warm.
Those… eyes… Kyuhyun was momentarily transfixed as the young man smiled at Donghae, his dark eyes having a fox-like quality as if mischief was a close companion, never too far from him.
“Meh, same as usual,” Donghae shrugged as he tossed the spoon behind his shoulder, the confirmation of it landing in the sink coming as a loud clatter.
“Ah, then I’m the first to come in,” the young man replied, his smile taking on a rueful quality as he turned his attention to the baked goods on display that morning.
“This is how busy this store usually is? Why was I even hired? How does is it even stay in business!?” Kyuhyun immediately clasped a hand over his mouth, accidentally allowing his usually brash and blunt thoughts to be vocalized.
“Kyuhyun…” Donghae muttered his reprimand in an exasperated yet affectionate tone,
The young man let out a chuckle as he leaned forward to place his elbow on top of the counter and prop his chin in his hand, “You certainly don’t mince words, do you, Cho Kyuhyun-sshi?”
Kyuhyun kept his hand over his mouth only to hide that he was now gaping at the other man. Although his nametag was pinned to his shirt, clear for all to see, it did not have his surname engraved on it.
As if knowingly perfectly what the younger man was pondering, Donghae, with something akin to amusement and triumph lighting his eyes, gestured to the third man with a slight wave of his hand, “Kyuhyun, this is Lee Sungmin. He owns Sweet Cravings Treatery and Ice Cream Store.”
“I’m lucky to still have my job after blurting all of that to my boss,” Kyuhyun grumbled as he took his bag out of his locker that night after the store was closed.
Although, I was being honest…
After being introduced, he had fallen into a state of muteness as the other two conversed with easy companionship. It wasn’t long before Sungmin took his leave of the store, however, and Kyuhyun felt he could breathe easy again. The remainder of the day was as boring as the first four hours of his shift. Less than a handful of people came throughout the day and Donghae continued to attempt to shove a spoon down his throat. He didn’t understand it. How could the owner of a store be so content with how empty his business was on a regular basis? Did he have no care for profits or for what losses he would sustain with a lack of patrons?
“And, yet, he just stood there with a smile and those stupid eyes of his,” Kyuhyun muttered as he closed his locker with a shake of his head,
“Who has stupid eyes?”
Horrified that he had voiced his thoughts once again, Kyuhyun just barely managed not to jump in surprise and slowly turned towards Sungmin who was now standing just a few feet away. With a shoulder leaning against one of the many empty lockers in the employee lounge, Sungmin was dressed as before except this time his sleeves were rolled to his elbows, a smirk slightly tugged on his lips and he was eating a scoop of ice cream from a paper cup.
“Uh… no one,” Kyuhyun replied, immediately cursing himself in his mind for such a lame answer,
Sungmin, however, just chuckled softly as he ate another spoonful of ice cream. When Kyuhyun was expecting some kind of scolding from his boss, Sungmin instead said, “I was looking for Donghae.”
“He’s taking out the garbage,” he said and, then, quickly added, “He said I could leave ahead of him. I offered to help, but –”
“It’s okay Cho-sshi, I surmised that’s what happened when you said he was taking out the garbage. Besides, it’s not like the store generates enough garbage to warrant two employees to take it out to the bins out back, hmm?”
“I…” Kyuhyun suddenly bowed at his waist in a perfect 90-degree angle, “I apologize for what I said earlier.”
“What for? You were being honest,” Sungmin’s expression was serious when Kyuhyun straightened to look at him, “If there’s one thing you should never apologize for, it’s for being honest, Cho-sshi. That’s one characteristic that is not too often found in today’s society.”
Kyuhyun nodded in silent reply as he fought not to voice the questions banging around his head.
If he knows what a failure his store is, why is he so carefree!? Is he an idiot?
Sungmin tilted his head slightly to the side, silently regarding the younger man. Dressed still in his uniform, the only change to his outfit was a beanie which now covered his raven hair and a dark-blue hooded sweatshirt to combat the cool spring night. For one who was younger than him, indeed even looked quite young, Cho Kyuhyun had such a serious air about him as if he lived years beyond his actual age. As if this slid into place the puzzle piece of why he had such a questioning look in his dark eyes, Sungmin couldn’t help but grin.
“You want to know why I’m not upset that business is slow here day in and day out,” He said, his words a statement rather than a question. Regardless of this, the younger man nodded. “There’s not much we can do about how many customers we get other than the menu we provide. So why waste energy worrying over it?”
“Not much… but, you could advertise more. I didn’t even know this place existed until Donghae mentioned it when I said I needed a job. Even just posting some fliers around the university campus would help boost sales and –”
“Cho-sshi, Cho-sshi,” Sungmin held up his pink, plastic ice cream spoon for silence, “Let me correct myself. There’s not much I want to do. I’m fine with the way things are for now, so I let it be. When I am no longer content, then perhaps I’ll consider changing things.”
“So, you’re fine with such mediocrity? No, this store cannot even reach that level –” Kyuhyun immediately clamped his mouth shut. He had let his thoughts get the better of him once more and, what was worse, he was sure that a peculiar sharp light had flashed across the other’s eyes for the briefest of moments. It reached him like a silent warning yet nothing else about Sungmin, his posture or his expression changed at all.
“This store has had a lack of customers since it opened two and a half years ago, Cho-sshi. Despite its mediocrity – or it’s less-than-mediocrity – it has remained open. Until that no longer is true, I am not inclined to change a single thing,” Sungmin took one last spoonful of ice cream which finished off his scoop and tossed the cup and spoon into a nearby trash bin. He turned and started walking towards the door, “Oh, and don’t call my eyes stupid. My mother gave them to me and she would be heartbroken to hear such words.”
Kyuhyun remained silent as his boss left, the door closing softly yet firmly behind him. Once he was alone again, he sighed with relief and leaned against his locker door.
He’s an even bigger idiot than I thought! How the heck am I still an employee!?
He glanced back at the door, replaying his conversation with the older man. He had thought Donghae annoying just because it had taken him two years to finally enroll in the last class he needed to finish his degree. However, the evident and self-proclaimed satisfaction that his boss had over the lackluster business was even more irritating to Kyuhyun. Indeed, it irked him when people did not work hard or strive to improve things. Although he did have to give the store its due for remaining open with such poor sales, he still couldn’t condone the lack of initiative to even attempt to increase the patronage.
He’s probably some spoilt rich boy living off of his parent’s money to keep this store open.
Kyuhyun decided at that moment that he did not like Lee Sungmin.
“Hey, Kyuhyun!” Donghae suddenly approached him behind the counter, a big smile on his face.
“Hmm?” Kyuhyun didn’t even bother to look up from the cash register which he was counting the float for the start of his shift.
“Even though we only have the one class together, I can tell that you’re super smart, so, I thought I would ask this important question of you,” Donghae said as he leaned a hip against the counter,
“If it’s about studying together, I already told you last week that that would be fine.”
“Oh, thanks, but this isn’t about that. It’s something that seems quite simple and, indeed, I’m a little embarrassed to ask, but sometimes you forget about the trivialities when it becomes second nature and –”
Kyuhyun closed the cash drawer having ensured he had the right amount of float. He looked up at Donghae, “Stop. You’re rambling. Just ask me the question and I’ll answer it if I can.”
“What’s the first vowel in the Korean alphabet?”
“Ah –” Immediately, Donghae shoved the head of a pink plastic spoon into the younger man’s mouth. Kyuhyun sputtered at the sudden attack, but kept the spoon in his mouth even as he exclaimed, “What the hell was that for!?”
“I’ve been trying to get you to try our food for three days now. I had to get creative!” Donghae grinned and, then, pointed a finger at him, “Now, admit defeat by saying how delicious it was.”
“I don’t like sweet foods,” he admitted. To further his point, he withdrew the spoon and tossed it into the nearest trash bin. He shook his head as he went into the back room. When he came back out, he had a broom in his hand. “Honestly, if I thought for one moment that you would keep hounding me about trying the food here, I would have told you sooner,” Kyuhyun said as he moved from behind the counter to the public space and began sweeping around the chairs and tables.
“But… but, why don’t you like sweet foods?” Donghae questioned, looking at the other as if he had just grown a second head,
“Who doesn’t like sweet foods?” Sungmin, who had just walked in through the front door, looked up from the papers in his hand. As always, he dressed in business-casual clothes, foregoing a blazer and tie to match his slacks and button-up shirt.
“Me,” Kyuhyun said just as Donghae cried out, “Him!”
“Why don’t you like sweet foods?” Sungmin asked, tilting his head ever so slightly to the side as he regarded the younger man.
Kyuhyun continued sweeping even as he shrugged and answered, “I just don’t. Everyone has their own tastes, right? I’m entitled to my own food particulars.”
“Then, why do you work here?” Sungmin questioned.
Kyuhyun stopped his work at the other’s tone. Something about his voice had shifted slightly, making Kyuhyun believe it important he show his full attention to the other man. He looked up at his boss, trying to read him. When he locked gazes with Sungmin, he saw again that peculiar sharp light in his eyes that brought to mind fire and steel. However, as if realizing what he saw, Sungmin’s expression suddenly brightened, the hard glint in his eyes replaced with merriment, as if his happy-go-lucky demeanour was a carefully built wall.
“I need money,” Kyuhyun answered. When Sungmin didn’t reply immediately, he stared at his boss, trying to find signs that what he thought was true. In the end, he couldn’t find a single crack in the possible defences.
“Well, then, work hard!” Sungmin stated in an almost sing-song tone, “Oh, and Donghae, please save the dramatics for another day. I’ve had a headache all day.”
“Ah! Do you need some medicine for it? You probably just need a good nap,” Donghae rushed over to Sungmin’s side when their boss rounded the counter on his way to the back, “You just go lie down in your office, Min, and I’ll heat you up a glass of milk!”
Kyuhyun watched, perplexed and amused as Donghae practically shoved their boss through the door leading into the back. Donghae returned, fussing behind the counter. It was as Donghae was heating some milk in the microwave when Kyuhyun recalled his words.
“You just go lie down in your office, Min, and I’ll heat you up a glass of milk!”
“How long have you known the owner?”
“You mean, Sungmin?”
“Is there another owner?” Kyuhyun questioned exasperatedly,
“I’ve known him since we were freshmen. So… six years,” Donghae calculated,
“You guys must be really close then, huh?”
“Of course,” Donghae replied as he turned half of his attention towards the microwave that beeped as it finished. He carefully took out the mug and stirred the milk so it would be evenly warmed, “Ah, perfect,” he said as he tasted some of the milk himself. He grinned as he looked back at Kyuhyun, “Sometimes the best medicine is love.”
Kyuhyun remained quiet as Donghae disappeared into the back with the mug of warmed milk. He continued sweeping, wondering why he was bothered by his friend’s parting words.
At the end of the day, Kyuhyun found himself tired as he took out his bag from his locker. It wasn’t that his job was physically demanding even though they had ten people come into the store that day. He shook his head,
“This is the busiest I’ve seen this store become since I’ve started. I’m so tired of being bored,” He muttered as he shut his locker,
“Kyuhyun, are you leaving?” Donghae entered the staff room, a ball of clothing tucked under his arm,
“Just about…” Kyuhyun couldn’t help eyeing the clothing,
“Ah, just wait a few minutes. I’ll leave with you,”
“Yeah, sure. Hey, Donghae,”
“What is that?” Kyuhyun asked just as Donghae unfurled the ball to reveal a pair of black slacks and hung it in his own locker,
“Sungmin’s pants,” Donghae grinned,
Kyuhyun could feel heat creep up his neck, “Why do you have his pants?”
“Because he was in such a deep sleep he didn’t wake up when I took them off of him,”
“What? We’re both working and he’s sleeping in his office? I know you told him to lie down earlier, but I didn’t think you were serious! And, to think, that he actually went to sleep while on the job!” Kyuhyun explained, his eyes narrowed,
“I am the boss, so, I’m pretty sure I can do whatever I please.”
Kyuhyun was horrified to find Sungmin standing in the doorway, arms akimbo and clad in just his shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. Kyuhyun’s shock was easily wiped away when he realized the older man was barefoot.
He probably took off his shoes and socks to sleep!
“Besides, I don’t think you have anything to complain about. Wasn’t it just three days ago when you were describing my store as having mediocre business sales? I’m surprised you didn’t take your own nap with all the free time you have working here,” Sungmin stated, his voice having a distinct bite to it and his fox-like eyes narrowed angrily,
“Min…” Donghae murmured, his tone a warning to his friend,
“Give me back my pants, Donghae,” Sungmin held out his hand,
“It’s your own fault for not waking up. I thought I should teach you a lesson,” Donghae replied as he took the pants from the locker and tossed it to him,
“I’m already angry at myself for sleeping this late, Donghae, I don’t need your lectures, too,” he snapped. As if suddenly realizing how he was talking and to whom he was talking, his expression softened immediately and a rueful smile tugged at his lips; “Sorry, Hae… I shouldn’t have taken my anger out on you.”
Donghae waved his hand as if to wave away the other’s words, “It’s okay.”
“I’ll drive you home to make up for it? If you don’t mind waiting around for me, that is.”
“Eh, but I wanted to walk with Kyuhyun,” he pouted.
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “It’s okay. We can walk together another time. Besides, I’ll see you in class tomorrow, right?”
“Right!” Donghae grinned,
“Come to my office when you’re done,” Sungmin said. He glanced at Kyuhyun as if he wanted to say more, however, all he did was turn and leave, closing the door behind him.
“How have I not been fired yet!?” Kyuhyun questioned as he turned and hit his forehead against his locker door,
“Hmm? Why would you be fired?” Donghae asked as he pulled on his coat and switched his shoes,
“I know it doesn’t seem like it these past few days, but I’m actually quite good at controlling my tongue. But, lately, it’s like I can’t control myself and I keep having these little outbursts. To make matters worse, I keep saying the worse things about this store in front of our boss!” Kyuhyun explained, rubbing his forehead where a red mark was now forming,
Donghae laughed, “Oh, I noticed. I don’t think you realize this, Kyuhyun, but your face is very expressive.”
“It… it is?” He blinked, startled.
“Yup. I can read you like an open book, so!” He stood up after tying his shoes, “It’s quite obvious when you’re trying to restrain yourself since your thoughts are pretty much written all over your face. For example, I know when you get annoyed with me, but that just makes it even more fun to tease you!”
Kyuhyun sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“For what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing that you’re finally speaking your thoughts,” Donghae said as he took his backpack from his locker and slipped the straps onto his shoulders,
Donghae nodded as he closed the locker door with his foot, “It’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up inside. Besides, I think you haven’t been fired so far is because Sungmin appreciates honesty above everything else.”
“But… he was angry just now.”
“For a lot of reasons and, yes, one of those reasons was because of what you said. But, he’d prefer to know the truth than be given a bunch of sugar-coated lies,” Donghae paused and, then laughed, “Did you get it? Sugar-coated lies!”
Kyuhyun chuckled softly, not knowing if it was because of the other’s obvious pun or because Donghae was blatantly trying to arouse usual annoyance.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Donghae headed for the door, pausing before opening it, “Oh, and don’t judge Sungmin so harshly all the time. He fell asleep today because he didn’t sleep at all last night.”
Before Kyuhyun could question him, Donghae spouted another goodbye and left.
Kyuhyun recalled the way Sungmin had glared at him just moments ago. From his first impressions of his boss, he would never expect to see such a hard and serious expression from him. Granted, he occasionally saw flashes of it in Sungmin’s eyes, but it never lasted and never seemed to encompass his entire being. Then, he recalled the way that all of Sungmin’s expression and emotion seemed to suddenly melt away when his attention was focused on Donghae. He seemed lighter, somehow, as if the ever-present happiness and liveliness that surrounded Donghae, indeed, seemed to burst from him would leak to Sungmin, embracing him and banishing all negativity.
Kyuhyun was startled to feel a particular sensation in his chest, almost as if a vice were gripping his heart.
What…? This can’t be… No, I can’t possibly be jealous of Donghae over something as that!
He shook his head, pushing away the disturbing feeling and his confusing thoughts. He immediately left the store, ignoring the warm laughter he heard coming from Sungmin’s office as he quickly walked by the closed door. However, once he was out in the cool night, he couldn’t help but think,
The next night, Kyuhyun found himself back at work even though he had left the building just an hour ago when the store had closed for the night.
I can’t believe how stupid I am!
Using his copy of the master key, he easily let himself in. On his way to the staff room, however, he was startled to see light pouring into the dark corridor from the kitchen. He had thought he had seen Sungmin’s car parked on the street on his way in, but had thought it just the same car with a different owner. Curious, he quietly made his way towards the kitchen, his hand palming his cellular phone on the chance that it wasn’t the boss, but an intruder instead. Since the kitchen didn’t have a door, it was easy for him to peek into the doorway to look in.
Sungmin was squatted before the oven, his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands as he peered into the oven’s window. Although Kyuhyun didn’t hear a timer go off, Sungmin suddenly straightened, grabbed a pair of oven mitts and took out a round pan from the oven, placing it atop of the counter.
Immediately, Kyuhyun’s nostrils were filled with the cloying scent of chocolate. Despite his claims the other day, he couldn’t help the saliva that filled his mouth at the smell. Working at the store, he was surrounded constantly by the smell of baked goods, but there was something different about smelling something fresh from the oven. Indeed, it seemed to call to him, filling his stomach with anticipation of even just a taste of whatever was in the pan.
Sungmin seemed to turn his attention away from the pan as he took out a saucepan, placed it on the stovetop and began adding ingredients to it that Kyuhyun couldn’t quite see. As he stirred the contents with a wooden spoon, he added a second saucepan to the stovetop and began adding other ingredients, one of which looked like a bar of chocolate. As Sungmin attentively stirred the spoons in both saucepans, Kyuhyun realized he was right concerning the second saucepan because the scent of chocolate permeated the small kitchen even more.
“At this rate, I’ll be drooling all over myself,”
Sungmin suddenly looked at him just as he was turning off the stove. He blinked.
Kyuhyun mentally scolded himself. He had spoken out loud and, what was worse, he spoke in a normal volume rather than a whisper.
“What are you doing here, Cho-sshi?” He asked as he left the saucepans and turned back towards the round pan. Putting on the oven mitts again, he picked up a knife and ran it along the inside perimeter of the pan. Then, he turned it over and carefully dropped a perfectly formed chocolate cake onto a cooling rack on the counter.
“I forgot my dorm key in my locker. I had to come back and get it,” Kyuhyun explained as he stepped fully into the kitchen, his curiosity taking over completely,
“Why didn’t you just find the dorm leader? Don’t they usually have a copy of the keys?” Sungmin inquired as he used a long, serrated knife and perfectly cut the cake through its midsection.
“Yeah, but when I went to his room he… sounded busy… with a visitor,” Kyuhyun muttered, heat creeping up his neck so fast he was sure he was as red as an apple,
“Campus security?” He prompted as he took up the first saucepan and grabbed a spatula, carefully taking the contents of the saucepan and spreading it on top of the lower section.
“I forgot about them,” Kyuhyun admitted, too intrigued by the other’s work to care much about his mistake.
“Cho-sshi, if you’re not careful I’ll think you lied yesterday about not liking sweet things,” Sungmin teased as he put down the saucepan and carefully placed the top section of the cake back onto its bottom half.
“You already know I lied, don’t you?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Donghae says I’m easily read. I have to admit, I never realized I express everything on my face,” Kyuhyun answered as he watched Sungmin take up the second saucepan and carefully spread chocolate icing onto the cake,
“You do. And I do know,” the other man confirmed. He put down the saucepan as he used just the spatula to evenly spread the icing on top and around the cake. When it was done, he put down the spatula and moved towards one of the cupboards, “Don’t just stand there gaping like a fish. Have a slice.”
Sungmin glanced at him, amusement evident on his face, his eyes dancing, “Food is meant to be eaten and enjoyed.”
“But… I thought perhaps this was for tomorrow’s batch. I never thought of it before because Donghae is always here before I am, but the food is always already prepared,” Kyuhyun stared down at the plate in his hands, the slice of cake making his mouth water again. He looked up at Sungmin, “You make all of the food here the night before, don’t you?”
“Looks like you found out my not-a-real-secret secret,” Sungmin laughed as he held out a fork to the younger man, “I do, but this cake wasn’t for tomorrow. This cake was a personal craving.”
“You mean you don’t get sick of sweet food? You still crave them?”
“Not that kind of craving. You see, I make a lot of generic foods here and, because I make them at night when I’m really tired, I can’t give them the attention and effort they deserve. Since I’m so busy, I haven’t baked something of my own choosing, without the worries of sleep or time crunches;” Sungmin stared down at his own slice of the cake, “I opened this store because I wanted other people to enjoy my food… There’s something deeply satisfying of making a person happy just by eating your food.”
“But, people still eat your food now, even though it’s not a lot of people,” Kyuhyun said. He sighed, “Sorry, I wanted to say something to make you feel better, but I ended up being rude.”
Sungmin shook his head, a small smile on his face, “It’s okay, it’s the truth.”
“So… why aren’t you satisfied?”
“I’ve been so consumed with the business-side of this store that, lately, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve become distanced from my baking. I feel as if I’ve walked away from the path I initially started on and, well… I wanted to see if baking still made me happy. I wanted to make sure that, even though I run a business now, that I’m still a baker at heart,” Sungmin answered, his smile suddenly tainted with sadness.
Seeing the change in the other’s smile, Kyuhyun immediately remembered what Sungmin had said about being happy when people at his food. So, Kyuhyun shoved a forkful of cake into his mouth. The chocolate icing was warm and soft, teasing his tongue as its flavour mixed with the lightness of the creamy middle which had a caramel-like quality. The cake itself was moist, practically melting in his mouth. When he swallowed, suddenly indecisive on whether or not to inhale the rest of his piece or take his time and savour it, he glared at the older man,
“This is the reason why I stay away from eating sweet foods!” Kyuhyun practically growled as he ate more of his slice,
Sungmin, who had been taken aback by the other’s fierce expression, laughed then, “Why?”
“Because I love sweet things too much, I have no control when I eat sweets,” he muttered, closing his eyes as he relished in the cake’s sinful deliciousness. “My God, chocolate cake with dulce de leche filling is brilliant.”
“You even know what filling it is? People usually mistake it for caramel,”
Kyuhyun shot him a glare as he took up another forkful, “I said I love sweet things too much. Of course I know the difference in tastes between dulce de leche and caramel.”
Sungmin chuckled softly as he began to eat his own slice.
They had both eaten another slice each before Kyuhyun shoved the rest of the cake away and closed his eyes, begging Sungmin to take it away before he eat the rest of it. Laughing, Sungmin stored the cake into the fridge.
“You said you’ve become too busy with the business-side of this store, but, it never looks as if there’s too much to do since the revenue is… lacking,” Kyuhyun said, “How are you busy?”
Sungmin laughed as he tossed his dishes into the sink and began soaping them, “You do not mince words, do you, Kyuhyun?”
He blushed then, from both speaking his mind by choice and also because the other had said his name. As they had eaten the cake, they had arrived to the decision that they needn’t continue to be so formal with one another. So, while Sungmin finally called him by his first name, Kyuhyun still couldn’t make himself drop the honourifics. There was something intimate about such a thing.
“Well, I guess since you told me your secret about loving sweets, I’ll tell you another of my not-so-secret secrets. This store actually is borne from a school project of mine from university. I had to create a business plan and, essentially, pretend we had a business. This went from thinking up a title, to even making letterheads and business cards. When the project was completed and I got it back from my professor with full marks, it felt…” he paused, searching for the right words as he began to rinse his dishes; “It felt as if my dream had reached another level, moving beyond not just having people eat my food, but also to having my own store.
“I opened this store shortly after I finished university. I soon realized that I didn’t know a lot about business. You see, my degree is in food service and hospitality. I realized my error in never taking more than just that one business class in school, but, in order to take more classes, I would need money and I still had to pay off my student fees from my first degree. So, I complained about all of this to Donghae – although he’ll say I cried on his shoulder about it – and he agreed to work for me for free until I got the business a little bit more stable. I take business courses at night. That’s why I’m gone during the evenings but come back for closing,” he finished, drying his hands on a dish towel.
“Is that why you were so upset the other night when you slept in your office?” Kyuhyun asked,
Sungmin nodded, “I had missed my class that night. I spent the night before studying for a test and, since I fell asleep in my office, I missed my test yesterday.”
Kyuhyun stood from the stool he had been sitting on and suddenly bowed towards the older men, “I owe you a huge apology, Sungmin-sshi.”
Sungmin blinked at him, completely confused, “For what? It wasn’t your fault I slept yesterday.”
“I thought you were some lazy, spoiled brat whose business stayed afloat only because you had rich parents or something, but, all this time you were working hard to make your dream as a baker with their very own store come true. For misjudging you, I apologize,” Kyuhyun admitted,
“Well, thank you for the apology, but it’s okay, Kyuhyun. It’s not like we know that much about each other.”
“Look, if it makes you feel better, I do have rich parents. There, not all of your preconceptions were wrong,” he grinned when the younger man looked at him skeptically, “Feel better?”
“Not really,” he muttered, “Now I understand why Donghae defended you last night.”
Sungmin stared at him, “He did? When?”
“After you took back your pants he told me not to judge you so harshly.”
Sungmin laughed softly as he turned back towards his dishes, arranging them carefully on the drying rack, “It’s so easy to get annoyed with his perkiness, but then he pulls stunts like this to remind me why I love the guy.”
Kyuhyun was so startled to feel that familiar pain in his chest, almost as if his heart were clenching, that he backed up into the stool. Sungmin looked over his shoulder at him, concern written on his face,
“Ah, yeah, yeah,” Kyuhyun picked up his bag, “I should be going now. I’ll just grab my key from my locker and see myself out.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll be here another hour or so baking for tomorrow, so if you forget anything else, feel free to come back and visit me,” Sungmin smiled brightly at him,
A different feeling entered Kyuhyun’s chest then, his heart beating a rapid tattoo against his ribs. Also, from the heat spreading on his face, he was sure he was blushing madly. Managing a garbled goodbye, he quickly left the kitchen, just barely remembering to grab his key from his locker before leaving. The moment he was outside, he closed the door and leaned back against it breathing heavily.
Damn it… I am jealous of Donghae.
The more Kyuhyun worked at Sweet Cravings, the more guilt he felt. After acknowledging he was jealous of his friend’s relationship with their boss, he couldn’t help but feel bad because it was Donghae who had told him about the job. Indeed, now that he thought about it, Donghae was probably the reason he was hired instead of the other applicants. What was even worse was that he became more aware of Sungmin whenever the older man was around. If Sungmin came into the store, Kyuhyun’s eyes would immediately look for him. If he heard his voice, Kyuhyun’s ears would perk up. If Sungmin was in his vicinity, Kyuhyun couldn’t help but blush – and he was not one to blush so easily. Indeed, just the thought of his boss sent his heart into a 100-metre dash.
When a pair of arms suddenly wrapped around Kyuhyun from behind one day at work, he suddenly yelled, throwing himself away from the person behind him. As he collapsed against the counter, he stared with wide eyes at Donghae,
“W-why did you do that!?” He demanded,
Donghae laughed, “I called your name like a dozen times but you didn’t answer me. I hugged you to get your attention but I didn’t think you’d freak out like that. Sorry.”
Kyuhyun took several deep breaths to calm himself. For the briefest of moments, he thought – hoped – that it had been –
“Why did you freak out?” Donghae asked, “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I… I…” Kyuhyun looked away frustrated. It seemed the more he worked at Sweet Cravings, the more of his composure he lost. He prided himself in having the cool, calm, collected demeanour perfected, but that was all thrown away whenever he came to work or whenever his boss was around.
“Were you thinking of someone when I did that and for a moment you were transported into a fantasy where the person you liked suddenly hugged you from behind?” Donghae grinned, his eyes lit up with excitement,
“Oh, that’s so exciting. Are you in love, Kyuhyun? Who is it? Is it someone from our class? Oh! Oh! Is it a childhood friend who you left behind to go to school here, but your time apart has caused you to realize how much they truly mean to you? Or…” Donghae trailed off as Kyuhyun started laughing then, “What is it?”
“You’re just so excited on my behalf and coming up with all these clichéd stories,” Kyuhyun smiled,
“Well, you’ve been moping around for weeks now and you hardly talk anymore. I was starting to get worried,” he replied. Then, Donghae took out a pink plastic spoon from a dispenser and held it out, “Go have a bit of ice cream. You seem better after that laugh and ice cream will help, too!”
Kyuhyun blinked, “I’ve… been moping?”
“Yes, I just said so.”
“But, I’m not even sad! I’m just jeal…”
“Gel?” Donghae looked at him, clearly perplexed, “You’re gel? Gel… Gel… What the hell is gel… You’re jealous!?” He suddenly closed the distance between them and grabbed the younger man by the shoulders as he grinned widely, “Why are you jealous? Has your love been stolen away? Do you have to fight for the one you love? I’ll help! Who is it?”
Kyuhyun snorted, “I don’t love anyone. If I love someone I’d first have to like them and I sure as hell do not like –”
“Donghae! Kyuhyun!” Sungmin burst forth from the back, a big smile on his face, “I have great… what are you two doing?” He tilted his head, watching them curiously,
Kyuhyun immediately shoved the other man away, “N-nothing!”
Sungmin regarded him for the briefest of moments before he smiled again, “I have great news!”
“What is it?” Donghae prompted,
“We had twelve customers yesterday! That’s the most we’ve had in one day since the store opened!” Sungmin exclaimed,
Kyuhyun watched bitterly as the two high-fived one another. Had this happened a few weeks prior, he would have resented their celebration of such a low achievement. Now, however, he couldn’t help but be jealous of their closeness, of the intimate relationship they clearly had together. As he turned away, seemingly to grab a rag to clean the counter with, he pushed his rising envy that he didn’t have such a relationship with anyone and never had one before. But, he wanted one now and the envy turned to guilt when he acknowledge that he wanted what Donghae had.
“We should celebrate!” Donghae declared as he grabbed another spoon and held it out for Sungmin, “This is for you, the other one I already promised to Kyuhyun.”
Sungmin laughed, “Alright, how about –” he was caught off by his cellular phone ringing. Sighing heavily, he detached his phone from its clip on his belt, answering it, his expression soured, “Hello? Yeah, it’s me… It’s my only day away, can’t anyone else… Alright, alright, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” He ended the call without a goodbye, clipping his phone back into its holder with a decisive curtness.
“Min? What’s up?” Donghae asked as he slowly lowered the pink spoon,
“They need me to come for the rest of the day,” Sungmin sighed again, running his hand through his hair, “I go there every day and the one day I don’t, they call.” He threw them a rueful smile, “Sorry guys, I guess we’ll have to save the celebrations until another time. Tomorrow?”
“Yeah, of course,” Donghae nodded with vigor, “Right, Kyuhyun?”
“W-what? Uh… yeah,” he offered what he hoped was a natural smile.
Sungmin gave a small wave as he turned and disappeared into the back once more. The moment they were alone, Donghae turned and grabbed Kyuhyun by the shoulders again,
“Oh my God! You like Sungmin!”
Kyuhyun slapped both of his hands over the other’s mouth, “Shut up! I do not!”
“You so do!” Donghae pulled his mouth from the younger man’s hands, “The moment he came in you got all awkward and adorable! Did you know your ears get red when you’re nervous?”
“Ah! Stop it!” Kyuhyun shoved him away, “You’re wrong!” Picking up the rag again, he began to wipe down the counter with rough strokes, “Besides, why are you so happy over this? Shouldn’t you be mad at me?”
Donghae gaped like a goldfish, “Mad? Why would I be mad?”
“Well, because you and him are… he’s your… you know.”
A small, sly grin spread on the older man’s face as his eyes lit with mischief, “No, I don’t know. What? My friend?”
“N-no… m-more than that.”
Donghae sidled up beside him and leaned in close, “My lover?” He whispered, his lips practically brushing against Kyuhyun’s ear,
“Y-yes! N-no! I… I mean… damn it, you know!” Kyuhyun exclaimed, eyes narrowed darkly at his friend. As if remembering the other’s words, he covered his ears with his hands.
Donghae broke out into laughter, even going so far as to hold his stomach and double over. When he looked up at Kyuhyun again, tears were trickling from his eyes as he continued to laugh, “Oh, Kyuhyun, I have never seen you so out of sorts before! I should have videotaped this!”
“Shut up! And… and why aren’t you mad?”
“Because there’s nothing between Sungmin and I but friendship,” Donghae explained as he wiped the back of his sleeve over his eyes,
“But… but you both said at different times that you love each other,”
“Friends are allowed to love each other in a platonic way,” Donghae leaned his hip against the counter and loosely crossed his arms about his torso, “Look, Kyuhyun. Sungmin and I are best friends. We’ve been there for one another for a number of years, but that’s all there is.” He pointed one of the spoons at the younger man, “But, you have romantic feelings for him, don’t you?”
“I… Um… where did he go so suddenly?” Kyuhyun asked, turning his attention to cleaning the counter as he so obviously changed the subject,
“Oh, his parents’ restaurant,”
“His parents own a restaurant?” Kyuhyun’s jaw literally dropped open,
“Well, several all over Korea, but he’s going to the one in town,” Donghae explained,
“But… why? Does he run that business also?”
Donghae blinked at him, “You don’t know?”
“Know what? You haven’t told me anything about a restaurant!” He replied exasperatedly,
“Oh, I haven’t, have I?” Donghae grinned sheepishly, “Sungmin doesn’t run the business there, he works there.”
“At his parents’ restaurant?”
“But, if he runs the business, then he still works there.”
“No, no, no. Sungmin isn’t in any management position there.”
“Then… don’t tell me he bakes there?”
“You know he bakes?” Donghae gasped,
“You just said you thought I knew about his other job!” Kyuhyun growled,
“I know, but I was starting to get confused,” Donghae whined,
“And, I’m getting a headache,” Kyuhyun snapped,
“Sungmin bakes at the restaurant during the day. That’s why he doesn’t get here until after lunch,” he explained.
Damn it, I have to apologize even more for thinking him a lazy brat.
“So, he bakes during the day at his parents’ restaurant, then comes here to run this store, goes to school at night and, then, he bakes after the store is closed for the next morning,” Kyuhyun shook his head, “No wonder he loses sleep. Why doesn’t he just quit working there if it makes him so busy?”
“How else am I to pay to keep this store open?”
Kyuhyun immediately collapsed against the counter until his forehead hit its top; “Must you always arrive at the worst of times?”
“I was still in the building and you two were yelling,” Sungmin defended as he stood in the doorway that led to the back. He crossed his arms, “If you want to know something about me, Kyuhyun, why don’t you just ask me instead of bothering Donghae?”
“Oh, he’s not a bother,” Donghae grinned as he threw his arm around Kyuhyun’s shoulders, “He’s my cute dongsaeng!”
Sungmin’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
“Look, Kyuhyun! Sungmin’s jealous of me!” Donghae laughed as he dropped his arm,
“Hae!” Sungmin exclaimed,
“To make it even, Kyuhyun was jealous before, too, because he thought you and I were a couple,” Donghae shrugged as he grabbed a cookie from the display and headed into the back, “And, you two think I’m annoying? Geez, I’ve been waiting for you to hook up since day one!”
As the door closed behind Donghae, Kyuhyun found himself suddenly very much alone with his boss. It did not help that he could feel his ears heat up just as Donghae said that they reddened when he was nervous. It also did not matter that they were in a store in the middle of the day; they had so few patrons, they were pretty much alone in the store front.
Kyuhyun cleared his throat as he looked at everywhere else but at Sungmin, “So… you… were jealous of Donghae when he had his arm around me?”
“You were jealous first,” he countered,
“I was n… yeah… yeah, I was,” he pinched the bridge of his nose, “Why is this so difficult!?”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Sungmin shrugged as he nonchalantly walked towards the younger man,
“Yes, it does,” Kyuhyun raised his head and looked at Sungmin only to stumble backwards immediately, “Why are you so close!?”
Sungmin blinked before smiling, “I was at least a metre away from you.”
“W-why do you work at your parents’ restaurant?”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“Answer me first.”
Sungmin leaned a hip against the counter and, with a soft, exasperated sigh, explained, “Because, as we’ve already discussed, my store has poor sales. In order for me to keep it open these past two or so years, I’ve had to work at my parents’ restaurant. I didn’t want them to keep me or this store afloat; I wanted to earn my wages.”
“Great, now I owe him another apology,” he muttered, only to cover his mouth with his hand, realizing he had spoken his thoughts aloud once again before Sungmin.
“I’ve answered your question, now I want you to answer mine,” the older man stated, trying hard not to smile at the other’s horrified expression; “Why do you blurt out everything in front of me except for how you feel towards me?”
“It’s not like I blurt things out on purpose! It just seems to happen and the longer I work here, the more it happens,” Kyuhyun defended, “Trust me; I spent my entire life perfecting the art of keeping my thoughts to myself.”
“You’re avoiding the subject again.”
“F-fine! You want to know how I feel?” He challenged,
“Yes,” Sungmin answered simply,
Kyuhyun practically threw his torso onto the counter again, hitting his forehead on the top once more, “I knew you were too carefree!”
“And, you’re too serious. Now, go on, tell me,”
“Fine!” Kyuhyun crossed his arms atop the counter and buried his face in the circle his arms made, “I… I…”
“L~i~ke,” Sungmin prompted in a sing-song tone,
“I l-l-like… I l-l… I like y-y… I like you!” Although he had practically yelled it, his words were muffled and stunted by the position of his head and his arms wrapped around it,
“Who do you like?” Sungmin inquired innocently,
Kyuhyun looked up then, his face beet red as he threw the other man an annoyed glare, “I like you… S-Sungmin-sshi.”
Sungmin’s face broke out into a huge smile, “Ah, you finally said it. Now, drop the honourific.”
“I… I… I can’t!” He exclaimed as he buried his head in his arms once more, “You don’t realize how confessing is hard enough for me! I have never done this in my whole life!”
“Then, I’ll just have to do something I haven’t done before, either.”
“What?” Kyuhyun questioned, very much aware that the other’s voice now sounded closer – too close – and he was sure he could feel the warmth of another body just centimetres from his own.
Kyuhyun felt slender but firm fingers slide along the nape of his neck and, then, with steady pressure, force him to turn his head to the side until he was finally looking at Sungmin. He fought the urge to push the older man away, especially after finding their heads quite close together.
Sungmin’s smile softened and his eyes lit with an emotion Kyuhyun had never seen in them before; “I like you, Kyuhyun,” he confessed, his words carried on puffs of air which kissed the younger man’s cheek.
He wasn’t sure it was possible, but Kyuhyun had a feeling his face got even redder. He stiffened when Sungmin leaned in closer, but the moment their lips touched, he felt all strength leave him. The gentle pressure of the other’s mouth seemed to take away his sanity and, when Sungmin broke off the kiss, slowly moving away, he took Kyuhyun’s breath with him.
“I could get addicted to this…” Kyuhyun’s eyes widened immediately when he realized he was talking aloud. However, since they were so close together, he couldn’t even cover his mouth with his hands to stop any more thoughts from being voiced.
Sungmin laughed softly, warmly, “That was a sweet kiss.” He slowly straightened away from him, “Well, I would love to stay, but the restaurant’s baker called in sick and I’m the only one who can come in today. We can continue this later.”
“C-continue!?” Kyuhyun asked, hating that his voice had taken on a high-pitched quality,
Sungmin grinned, “You did just admit that you can get addicted to my kisses. I’ll just have to ensure that it happens!”
“I knew there was a reason I avoided sweet things!” Kyuhyun yelled after him just as the door to the back closed after him.
Sighing heavily, he took one of the pink plastic spoons and walked over to the ice cream. Taking a sample of chocolate, he ate it, allowing the flavour to fill his senses as the ice cream melted on his tongue. After swallowing it, with his face even redder than before, he threw an irritated gaze to the door Sungmin had just left through;
“I’m so going to get addicted… He’s sweeter.”