Sunggyu awakens to the fact that he’s never coming back. He realizes he’s alone, and decides to go on a journey to find him.
He gets a call from Sungyeol a couple of hours later. There’s a bag full of clothes in the backseat and a crumbled map in the seat below; the windows are open and the radio loud, and he’s holding a cigarette with the hand that’s not firm on the steering wheel. The phone rings inside his pocket. One time. Two times. Three times. He lazily lays the cigarette in the ashtray and picks up the phone. His eyes never leave the road before him.
“Hyung, where are you?”
“I’m on my way, do you have what I asked you for? Can you text it to me?”
“Yes, please call me when you arrive to Cheongju.”
The hotel room is small, but he’s not planning on doing much there anyway. He texts Sungyeol, because he promised but he’s not in the mood for a call, and he realizes then he forgot his laptop, or his tablet for that matter, home. When he leaves the hotel the next morning, his phone lays on the bed.
The old woman pours him another cup of hot tea. She is warm and welcoming, like no member of his own family is. He ponders for a minute if that’s what made them so different.
“He calls once in a while.”
“Thank you,” the young boy says once she’s done filling his cup.
“But we haven’t heard of him in quite some time.”
The old man groans from his place in the armchair. “His grandmother’s birthday was one week ago and he didn’t even call.”
“Oh, happy belated birthday.”
“Thank you, Sunggyu-sshi.” Her smile is so soft and comforting he feels like staying there forever. He can’t, though.
“And does he say where he’s calling from?”
“Somewhere in the south, I think he was staying with an old friend. He used to talk a lot about the sea.”
The woman puts a couple of cookies inside a paper napkin for the trip and Sunggyu bows deeply. He turns around just when he’s going out of the door.weari
“If Woohyun calls again, can you not tell him I was here?”
“If that’s what you want.”
The door is about to close when the old man shouts from the living room. “But he won’t call.”
There was always a photography of his grandmother in Woohyun’s wallet, right over Sunggyu’s. It was an old pic, probably stolen from a family album in one of his visits to his hometown, and Sunggyu faintly remembered her although her dark hair had turned into white and the big 80s glasses she was wearing had turned into some much smaller and fashionable glasses. And yet her expression was probably the same, because Sunggyu remembers having told Woohyun “she looks really nice.” He then complained about his own pic being hidden, the younger chuckled and they ended up fooling around and making out, with Woohyun whispering inside the other’s ear “Isn’t it more exciting if we keep it a secret?”
He goes as south as he can before his eyes start to flutter close. He stops at the first gas station he finds and looks for a phone booth first thing. He can’t remember Sungyeol’s number, so he calls Dongwoo instead. His phone number was always easier to remember.
“It was about time, hyung.”
“That you went looking for him.”
He gets Boohyun’s number from Dongwoo, but deems it’s too late to call him anyway.
He wakes up with an awful backache. He straightens up and wraps the blanket tighter around him, and watches the dawn from the parking lot while lighting a cigarette. When the sun is high enough, Sunggyu finds himself smoking his fourth one; the car is foggy and he’s reminded of the times when Woohyun and himself used to sneak out of the dorm and end curled up in some random alley sharing some smokes.
“I don’t really like smoking,” Woohyun said one of their last times, a couple of months before the disbandment.
“Huh? Then why...?”
“Because it’s forbidden, and it’s you, and I like doing forbidden things with you.”
They didn’t usually kiss outdoors because it was dangerous, but that day they kissed like it was their last day together, Woohyun pinning the older against the dirty wall of a dark alley. They didn’t know yet, but they somehow felt it was the end.
Sunggyu convinces himself the urge he feels to cry is because of how beautiful the sunrise is.
He doesn’t remember having been close to Boohyun at any point of his life, but doesn’t either expect the tense atmosphere when he finally calls him. Although probably “Do you remember me?” is an awkward sentence to start with.
“He did have a friend in the south. In Yeosu, I think. But I can only give you his name.”
The name is fine, he says. He will manage. But truthfully, he doesn’t know how. At least the boy has a rare name. His best friend from middle school, Boohyun says. He had never heard of him, and suddenly there’s a lump in his throat.
“Sunggyu, hm... how have you been?” That’s unexpected.
“Well, I- fine. Thank you.”
Boohyun didn’t knew; at least, that’s what he thought. Because even after the whole “secret” thing stopped being a secret and the other members could easily tell when they weren’t welcome in their shared room anymore, Sunggyu knew Boohyun kept on insisting his younger brother to go on a double date with some friend of his own girlfriend.
His last question, though, still lingered on Sunggyu’s mind for a long while.
Luckily enough, there are only two persons with that name in Yeosu. He finds out that afternoon with the phone book on his knees, sitting on the bed of the cheapest hotel room he could find in the town.
The first one turns out to be a 50 years old man who invites him over for dinner. Sunggyu’s not very clear about his intentions, but he wouldn’t have time for that even if he wasn’t suspicious. The second address leads him to an empty apartment. He ponders for a minute and decides to wait for a while. After three hours he’s back in his hotel room with his hands empty.
He lays lifelessly in the bathtub until the water is cold and he gets shivers. He runs a hand along his inner thigh, trying to imagine it’s not his own hand, trying to remember Woohyun’s breath against his neck. Let’s stay like this a little longer, he thinks he can hear the younger whisper in his ear. It’s been too long since he’s been touched by anyone, so he uses his own hands, softer, leaner and colder than the ones he remembers against his skin.
The next morning is sunny and clear, and Sunggyu is luckier. A boy with messy blonde hair and dark roots opens the door of the before empty apartment. He invites him to coffee when he asks for Woohyun, probably because the boy himself looks like he just woke up and could use some caffeine. The apartament is so dirty it’s obvious Woohyun doesn’t live there anymore; or maybe it’s him who doesn’t know Woohyun anymore.
“You are Sunggyu, right?” The owner of the apartment yawns.
“I am. Did he... talk about me?”
“I know about Infinite, of course. You were famous.”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Sunggyu’s voice trembles a bit when realization hits him.
“But he talked about you guys sometimes too. And he said you would come.”
“Did he say that?”
“Yes, but that was a long time ago. I think he was sure you would come to find him while he was still here.”
“How long has he been gone?”
“Hmm... almost a year now.”
Sunggyu fidgets with the packet of cigarettes and crouches in the little alley where he’s sure no one will notice him. His fingers shake lightly while he remembers his conversation with Woohyun’s friend.
“But... where did he go?”
“He woke up one morning and said he couldn’t wait anymore, so he packed his stuff and took the boat.”
“The boat? The boat to where?”
“Jeju, of course.”
Jeju, of course.
The wind dishevels his hair while he leans against the rail. He never quite liked boats, probably because in the last memory he has of being on a boat he is nine and his mother holds his head while he throws up. It’s not as bad as he remembers it to be, definitely not as bad; the sea breeze lulls him while he closes his eyes slowly and imagines Woohyun telling her grandmother about how beautiful the sea is and how the ocean breeze is doing wonders to his skin. Some familiar fingers bury in his hair, slowly massaging his scalp.
“Let’s run away. I can’t take it anymore, let’s go somewhere pretty just the two of us.”
“Yeah, why not...”
“Let’s spend the rest of our lives in Jeju.”
Sunggyu opens his eyes reluctantly and suddenly the hand is gone and Woohyun’s not there anymore. He has never been. Maybe in Jeju.
Jeju, of course.
It’s not as easy as he thought it would be to find someone in Jeju, apparently, since Sunggyu has just discovered the island has a population of over half a million, so he finds a nice bungalow-like pension near the beach with traditional Korean rooms and rents one for ten days. Just in case.
He wraps himself in the futon as soon as he arrives, even if it’s only noon, because he’s been shivering ever since he left the ferry.
It’s dark outside when he wakes up and he suddenly feels lonely; lonelier than he has ever felt, at least since that day when he woke up and Dongwoo told him that Woohyun wasn’t there. He takes his wallet from where it is laying below the futon and takes out a crumbled paper. It’s dark, the only light in the room coming from outside, but he doesn’t need any because he knows what the note says word by word: “I love you, but here.... no..... Please come.” There’s no signature on it, but it isn’t needed because Woohyun’s handwriting is characteristic enough. And because it’s the one Dongwoo was holding when he woke Sunggyu up that morning they were supposed to move out of the dorm. “He’s gone, hyung. Woohyun is gone.”
He wakes up and realizes he has fallen asleep and drooled all over the letter, but it’s probably not the first time he does so.
After that, he stays inside of his room for three more days, too overwhelmed by the thought that he won’t be able to find Woohyun to even start looking for him. He goes out on the fourth day only to have some breakfast and come back to his room, but the receptionist takes pity on him and silently leaves a map of the island on his table.
He opens it out of curiosity when he gets back to his room, traces the outlines of the island with his fingers, wonders what could have catched Woohyun’s attention. He stops his finger over a really small point in the middle of the ocean, probably the farthest part of the Jeju province. Mara-do, the map reads.
He’s one hour in the trip when he realizes his intuition might as well have gone completely wrong, and that Woohyun could have left Jeju a long time ago for that matter. But then he remembers last time he saw Woohyun cry and he’s sure he has to be right.
The evening rays filtered through the dorm’s curtains, a gentle reminder that summer was coming to an end. Sunggyu hadn’t been home for hours, probably since the morning, and nobody seemed to be home when he came back. Except for Woohyun, although he was barely recognizable curled up on the sofa with the thickest blanket he could find. It was still warm, Sunggyu reckons. He kneeled slowly beside the younger only to find he had been crying, thick wet trails on his face. The younger opened his eyes as soon as Sunggyu run his thumb along his cheek.
“Nothing, I was sad.”
“What happened?” The older murmured again against his cheek, feeling the wetness on his lips.
“My phone number got filtered. It didn’t stop ringing the whole morning, I thought my head was going to explode.”
“It’s not the first time though.”
“It is not...” He sighs. “Wanna cuddle with me?”
The sofa was too small, but nobody ever bothered to tell the CEO because they barely used it.
“Woohyun...” Sunggyu said once settled on the sofa, the younger tightly holding his waist, the older’s thumb tracing circles on Woohyun’s back.
“Let’s run away. I can’t take it anymore, let’s go somewhere far away just the two of us.”
“Yeah, why not.” His eyes closed slowly, his mouth barely moving as he was falling into slumber.
“Let’s spend the rest of our lives in Jeju.”
It’s raining heavily when the ferry arrives at Mara-do, which reminds Sunggyu that they are at the end of the summer season and it’s almost been two years since he last saw Woohyun. There’s only one street in the only village in Mara-do, a convenience store at the beginning, a temple at the end and a couple of restaurants and coffee shops for tourists in between, most of them practically empty due to the weather. Sunggyu used to spend his summer in a village like this, when his grandparents were still alive, and he’s sure if he can’t find Woohyun by asking around, then Woohyun is just not there.
He’s not lucky with the girl at the convenience store, who says she doesn’t live there and started working just a couple of weeks ago. He tells him to ask the owner of the pension next door, though, because “he just knows everything”.
There’s a small coffee shop at the end of the road, just beside the temple, the owner says. A young boy owns it; dark hair, tanned skin, deep voice. He came some months ago. But his name is not Woohyun.
The coffee shop is a little away from the rest of the buildings in the village, close to a cliff and surrounded by a garden that looks like it serves as a terrace when the weather allows it. When he gets in, he notices a heavy cinnamon smell. A couple of customers sit around the shop, and there’s a boy preparing coffee behind the bar. His hair is short on the back and there’s a mole on his neck, right there, in that place Sunggyu loved to kiss.
“Minsoo-sshi, can I have some more coffee here,” an old lady in the farthest table asks aloud.
The barista turns with a smile on his face. “Right away!”
His smile doesn’t last long, though, as it drops immediately after he notices the figure standing next to the door. Sunggyu approaches him, eyes never leaving each other, and he sits on a chair close to the bar.
“Minsoo doesn’t fit you,” he whispers.
“I close in two hours, come back then.”
Sunggyu shivers, because his voice hasn’t changed, but he can’t recognize the tone anymore.
“I’ll wait here.”
He sits on a table close to the windows; he can see the sea there, and it’s kind of beautiful and relaxing there. Woohyun brings him a cappuccino he hasn’t asked for some minutes later, along with an ashtray. He realizes Woohyun is still the only one who knows that he smokes and he finds the thought endearing.
Three cappuccinos and four cigarettes later, he hears Woohyun move around and eventually sits on the chair right in front of him after he’s closed the door and switched most of the lights off. Now that he can have a closer look, he sees a handful of small changes in the younger boy. His skin is tanner, much tanner; his hair looks different now that it’s not styled, silky bangs falling over his eyes; the bags under his eyes are gone, and his eyes themselves look smaller, but also because his gaze is harder now.
He takes the cigarette that Sunggyu is holding, now almost consumed, and takes one last drag before leaving it on the ashtray for good.
“I haven’t smoked in two years,” he says, eyes fixed on the ashtray.
“Good for you,” Sunggyu chuckles.
When Woohyun looks at him again, his gaze is so intense Sunggyu gulps.
“Oh God, Sunggyu, I thought you were never coming.”
The older doesn’t know how it happens, but he finds himself sighing relieved against the other’s lips, Woohyun holding his nape tightly, sucking, dragging his tongue across every single corner of Sunggyu’s mouth.
They end up in Woohyun’s house, a small room right behind the café. The bed is too small, but that’s just an excuse to cling into each other even closer. Sunggyu runs his hands under Woohyun’s t-shirt; it’s softer now than he remembers, the abs long gone, and he has to kiss his stomach to be sure.
“I haven’t been with anyone in two years,” the younger shivers under his touch. Sunggyu kisses his belly button once, twice.
They used to have a routine, a foreplay that worked for them. They knew which buttons they had to press, but it’s all long forgotten now. They touch like they have never touched each other, asking “Do you like it?”, stopping in between, waiting for a reaction.
Sunggyu doesn’t stop kissing the younger’s belly while he uses two fingers to prepare him. It’s like he’s discovering new places in the other’s body, or Woohyun has created new places in these two years only for him. His tights are smooth now, almost delicate, trembling so much it seems they are going to break. And when he’s finally thrusting into him, he finds his collarbones, now fleshier but still as defined as ever, and takes his time exploring them.
When Sunggyu opens his eyes, the sun is already coming through the window. He has to blink a couple of times, his eyes rusty, before he can distinguish Woohyun’s silhouette in the window sill. He is looking outside, smoking a cigarette that probably belongs to Sunggyu, and is oblivious to the fact that Sunggyu is already awake until the older finally stands and hugs him from behind. He is startled for a second, probably not used to any sort of company, but quickly relaxes in the embrace. The older hums against his neck and Woohyun offers him a drag.
“Aren’t you going to open the coffee shop today?”
“Hm I think no, I enjoy the freedom of being my own boss.”
Sunggyu breathes deeply against his neck, hearing more in those words than Woohyun ever meant.
“I thought you would never come, truthfully.” He grips Sunggyu’s arms, both holding him around the waist, tightly.
The older presses even closer, suddenly aware that they’re both still naked. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he mutters between kisses.
“It’s ok, you’re here now.”
He still breathes a small ‘sorry’ every time they kiss, every time he moans against the other’s mouth, every time the younger grabs his ass and thrusts harder, deeper inside him. Sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry.
Woohyun opens the coffee shop again the fourth day after Sunggyu arrived, only when they run out of food, the room smells too much like sweat and their limbs are starting to get numb.
The older sits at the same table as the first day, watching Woohyun working intently. When the shop closes, they make out on the table.
It becomes a routine; Woohyun opens the coffee shop every day, Sunggyu wakes up a while later after struggling with the sheets, and then sits in the same spot in front of the window until Woohyun closes the shop and hugs him from behind, and they have each other exclusively again.
The coffee shop closes again on the ninth day since Sunggyu’s arrival, because the older is doing wonders under the sheets and Woohyun doesn’t have the courage to stop him. They haven’t really kept a conversation ever since they met again and Woohyun starts to think it’s about time. But only when Sunggyu is done, of course.
The rain is gone and the weather still warm, and the beach still spots signs of the past storms when they get there. There are only two cigarettes left in Sunggyu’s packet and he doesn’t think he will buy more just yet, so he gives one to Woohyun and takes the other one to himself and then sits on the sand beside the younger.
“Sunggyu... are you staying?”
It’s the question that has been occupying their minds for days, but Woohyun didn’t have the courage to ask and Sunggyu didn’t have the courage to think of an answer.
“Why did you leave without me?”
Woohyun sighs, knowing he will have to wait a little longer to get an answer. It’s not like he didn’t expect this either.
“I knew you would have never come if I asked you to.”
“I told you I would.”
“Yet it took you two years to come look for me.”
“I wanted to, ever since you left,” Sunggyu pauses. “But every day that passed I tried to convince myself you weren’t waiting for me anymore, and then I was afraid you didn’t want me to find you anymore.”
“I would never do that.”
“You could have called, at least to let me know you were still thinking of me.”
The younger chuckles, the memories of all their silly quarrels from years ago coming back to his mind. “Sunggyu.”
When Sunggyu turns his head, he realizes Woohyun is not looking at the sea anymore but directly at him, and finds himself unable to look away. The smoke coming out from between the younger’s lips is mesmerizing, and Sunggyu closes the distance to briefly peck him.
“What happened?” He asks, eyes still closed.
“What happened when?”
“When you stopped calling your grandmother.”
“Did you go to see her?”
Sunggyu hums and then takes another drag, his eyes never leaving the other’s face.
“I had a sort of mental breakdown, so I packed all my stuff and came here from Yeosu. It was our anniversary nine months ago, you know?”
“Of course you wouldn’t know,” he smiles softly. “Seven years since we started dating.”
Sunggyu laughs, so lightly at the beginning that Woohyun’s not sure he’s even laughing, until his eyes turn into slits and he opens his mouth.
“I just found out we dated officially once.”
“Of course we did!”
“So what happened seven years and nine months ago exactly?”
“I jacked you off in the backstage of our concert, isn’t that romantic?”
“Oh God no!” Sunggyu bursts out laughing. “Was that really the first thing we did?”
“You didn’t even kiss me until the next day.”
For the first time since Sunggyu arrived, Woohyun is smiling so wide those wrinkles around his mouth and his eyes appear again and the older feels the urge to kiss them all. So he does, he kisses every single inch of Woohyun’s face.
“Sunggyu... are you staying?”
“Yes, yes, yes, I’m staying,” he finally says between kisses. “And please call your grandma, it was her birthday last month.”
There’s a letter in the mailbox when Dongwoo arrives home, and Sungyeol, and Myungsoo, and Howon, and Sungjong; a small envelope with no return address. Inside, just a note with a handwritten scribble. There’s no signature on it, but it isn’t needed because Sunggyu’s handwriting is characteristic enough. “Please don’t look for us. We love you.”