Yongguk was twenty-three days shy of his eighteenth birthday when he officially met Junhong. At the time, he’d thought he knew so much.
It was the beginning of his third year of high school, when his school implemented its infamous - at least to the students - mentor program. All seniors were paired up with a third year from the associated middle school to be their mentor. They were supposed to answer any questions the middle schooler might have and help them ease their way into the more stressful life of a high school student with as little discomfort as possible.
The teachers and board members thought that it would create a more harmonious school environment with middle and high schoolers working together. Yongguk and his friends thought they were delusional. From what they remembered from their own time as third year middle schoolers, there was a lot more teasing and bullying going on than mentoring.
Yongguk wasn’t exactly a mentor type of person, anyway. The teachers probably wouldn’t appreciate him teaching his middle schooler much of anything he knew. In fact, when she’d given him the email address of the kid he was supposed to be mentoring, his homeroom teacher, Ms. Lee, had given him a stern look and reminded him warningly to be professional. He was a role model, after all.
Yongguk had snorted in her face. He was loud, rude, boisterous, and he couldn’t care less about things like this. He got away with talking back to teachers because he was intimidating; he got away with saying outrageously inappropriate things to girls because he was devilishly good-looking; and he got away with bullying other kids because he was popular. Yongguk was not the type of person to be a role model for anyone.
Still, the mentor program was, unfortunately, a huge chunk of his grade. He could get by copying Himchan’s homework and barely passing tests, but he couldn’t afford to blow this thing off completely or he wouldn’t graduate. If he’d stuck high school out this long, by god, he was going to graduate.
He arranged via email to meet the middle schooler he’d been assigned at a little cafe that was exactly halfway between the two schools. Yongguk arrived first that first Thursday of school, the cozy warmth of the bright cafe a welcome relief from the chill March afternoon. He bought himself a cup of chai tea from the blushing girl behind the counter and sat down in a corner booth at the back to wait.
The cafe was crowded at that time of afternoon, mostly with students from the surrounding middle and high schools. They sat clustered around tables, still dressed in their uniforms. Some did homework and some just chatted eagerly, all of them sipping at overpriced drinks like Yongguk. Though Yongguk had never been in this particular cafe before, he rather liked it. It had warm yellow walls and a Mediterranean tile that gave off a Grecian sort of feel. He made a note to come here more often, at least until he got what he wanted from the cashier who kept stealing glances in his direction.
Yongguk didn’t know what his middle schooler looked like. Hell, he didn’t even know the kid’s name; he hadn’t mentioned it when he sent a one-word reply to Yongguk’s email suggestion of when and where to meet. Every time the little bell above the door tinkled to announce another patron’s arrival, Yongguk’s head whipped up to see if it could possibly be who he was waiting for.
He’d been waiting about ten minutes - getting more and more annoyed because nobody, nobody, made Yongguk wait - when the door opened to admit a tall, gangly-looking boy wrapped in a too-big coat. Yongguk didn’t pay him much attention; the boy was way too tall to be only a third year in middle school, so the possibility that this might be the kid he was waiting for never crossed his mind.
He was surprised, then, when the too-tall kid walked straight towards him and slid into the seat opposite without bothering to take off the enormous coat. Even though it was chilly outside, his choice of outerwear was a bit much for March. He even had a plain black mask covering the lower part of his face. All Yongguk could really see of the kid was a mop of curly blonde hair and a pair of intense eyes with dark circles underneath them.
He stared at the kid for a long moment, wondering whether or not to threaten him, when it finally hit him that this must be the kid he was waiting for. “Uh, hi,” he muttered. “I’m-”
“Bang Yongguk,” the kid answered, sounding too tired for it only being the fifth day back at school. “I know.”
Yongguk wasn’t exactly surprised that the kid already knew who he was. His reputation as a notorious but attractive delinquent was spread far and wide; even some kids who lived outside their school district knew who he was. He smirked. “And you are?” he prompted.
The kid hesitated, his dark eyes flickering briefly around the crowded cafe. When he spoke, his voice was soft. “Junhong. Choi Junhong.”
An awkward silence stretched out, the only sounds coming from the boisterous kids at the tables around them. Yongguk wasn’t exactly sure how to go about this mentoring business, and it was obvious that Junhong wasn’t going to talk at all if he didn’t have to. “Well,” Yongguk finally sighed. “I guess, do you have any questions about high school?”
“No.” Though the elder couldn’t see his face, Junhong seemed to be perfectly expressionless behind his mask.
Yongguk’s eyes narrowed. “Nothing at all?” He smirked again. “I could, you know, tell you the easiest way to sneak off campus and how to sneak into the teachers’ lounge.”
“No thanks.” Junhong’s hollow eyes didn’t change, and they didn’t meet Yongguk’s across the table. “I’m only doing this because it’s a school requirement. I don’t actually need your advice.”
Yongguk shrugged. “Fair enough.” He was only doing it because it was required too, so he didn’t hold it against the kid. It was better than being assigned a middle schooler that actually wanted to hang out. He would’ve had to put a stop to that real fast.
He reached into his bag and pulled out the crumpled packet of papers that outlined the requirements of the year-long mentor program. “According to this, we have to meet at least once a week and have documentation to prove that we’re doing what we say,” he read, cringing. Teachers were so suspicious these days; this was going to make it much harder to slack off. “We also have to attend all school events together. I guess we can count this as our meeting for this week.”
“That’s fine,” Junhong said faintly. Even though his voice was rather deep for a middle schooler, he spoke so softly that Yongguk had a difficult time hearing him over the raucous laughter coming from the next table.
There was another long, uncomfortable pause. Yongguk found himself getting annoyed. He didn’t like being awkward. “So, tell me a little about yourself, I guess,” he ordered, leaning back in the seat.
Junhong shrugged noncommittally, still not looking at the elder. “There’s not really much to tell.”
“You’ve got to have a hobby or something,” Yongguk prompted, his voice betraying how annoyed he was. He was going above and beyond what he usually would have just by asking this kid about himself, and his efforts were clearly unappreciated. Didn’t this kid know how popular Yongguk was?
Junhong’s gaze narrowed so he was glaring - but at the scratched tabletop rather than at Yongguk. “No. I don’t.”
“Are your grades good?” Yongguk demanded next. “I bet you’re some sort of genius.” If this kid was a nerd, he’d have an easy time bashing him to his friends the next day. He enjoyed bullying nerds the most. They were the easiest targets, aside from fat kids.
Junhong’s glare didn’t waver. “Not particularly.”
Well, then at least he was in the same boat as Yongguk, whose grades tended to be lower on the scale rather than higher. He didn’t say that out loud, though. “Are you good at sports?” He hated those cocky athlete-types, though, looking at Junhong’s gangly form, he couldn’t imagine that he was one of them.
“No.” The answer was instantaneous.
Yongguk grinned devilishly, showing off his signature gummy grin. “I bet you’re a real ladies man, though.” Thinking of it that way, Junhong could actually be useful to Yongguk. The elder liked pretty girls and, while third year middle schoolers were still a bit too young for him, he could wait until they got a bit older.
Junhong crushed that thought almost as soon as it presented itself. “I’m not interested in dating,” he muttered shortly.
Yongguk was definitely getting frustrated now. “You’ve got to do something. Everybody’s got hobbies. Playing an instrument, reading comic books, playing video games, watching television. Something.”
Junhong looked even further down with a pained and annoyed expression in his eyes. “Look, you don’t have to pretend to be interested in me. I know you’re only doing this because you have to, so don’t bother.”
The kid was right, of course. If it wasn’t for this stupid project, Yongguk would never even have looked twice at this kid other than to gawk at his ungodly height. Yongguk was too popular for his own good, a bad boy with a devil-may-care attitude that showed in everything he did. He was the exact opposite of Junhong, who was so buried in on himself that Yongguk couldn’t begin to figure him out even if he tried.
“Look,” he finally said, leveling his gaze at the kid sitting opposite him even though he knew the look wouldn’t be returned. “I’m going to be stuck hanging out with you at least once a week for the next eleven months, so don’t make this difficult. I’m not going to put up with any bull, so just humor me.”
“Whatever.” Even though Yongguk was staring at him intently - a look that had made manlier guys cower - Junhong still refused to meet his gaze. The younger looked everywhere but at his new mentor.
Junhong’s nonchalance and indifference was really getting under Yongguk’s skin. He wasn’t used to people being so blasé about him, and this pissed him off. “Do you have any homework? I can at least help you with that.” Or give him the wrong answers on purpose. That would teach the little brat.
“No thanks. I don’t think I trust you to do my homework,” the kid answered, not even bothering to hide the insult. “You don’t seem the type to get good grades.”
Even if it was true, Yongguk didn’t like hearing it from some socially-awkward kid like Junhong. It wasn’t his fault that his best friend studied too much and could be easily coerced into letting Yongguk copy his homework. “There’s gotta be something I can help you with.”
“No thanks,” Junhong replied shortly, starting down at his hands in his lap so intensely it was as if he was trying to bore a hole through them. “I don’t need your help. With anything.”
Yongguk’s ego was taking a beating. Even though he had come into this project thinking about how he wasn’t going to really help this kid no matter how much he begged, now he was thinking that he needed this kid to ask him for something. He was one of the coolest guys in school. Didn’t this kid know he should be begging Yongguk to help him out, to hang out, to show him the ropes? Junhong was making Yongguk feel scarily inadequate, and it didn’t help that Junhong was as tall as he was despite their three-year age gap. This was not a feeling Yongguk liked.
“Fine,” he finally muttered, unable to hide the sullen tone from his voice. Junhong, who seemed so quiet yet so observant, picked up on it at once, and Yongguk did not like that either. “If that’s all, I guess I’ll go. Same time, same place next week?”
“That’s fine,” Junhong muttered, also getting to his feet. “We should get someone to write something so we can prove we met today.”
Yongguk grinned. This, at least, would be a chance to show his superiority. He sauntered up to the counter, Junhong following rather reluctantly, and smiled at the blushing girl there.
“C-can I help you?” she stammered. She was pretty, with reddish hair and big eyes and hot pink fingernails.
Yongguk leaned against the counter, hoping Junhong could see just how popular he was with the ladies. Then, at least, the little brat might respect him a little. “Hey there, sweetheart,” he purred, and he could see the blush in the girl’s cheeks creep even higher. “My pal here and I need you to do us a favor.”
“Of course,” she answered immediately, her voice a high squeak.
Yongguk slid one of the cafe’s napkins, complete with logo, across the counter. “Could you just sign and date this for us? To prove that we met up here?” He rolled his eyes. “It’s for a stupid school project.”
The girl blushed even more but quickly scribbled down a sentence saying that she had seen them there, signing and dating it before sliding it back over. “There you go,” she murmured cutely.
“Thanks.” Yongguk winked at her before turning back to Junhong.
If the younger had noticed how easily Yongguk had the cashier eating out of the palm of his hand, he didn’t let it show. He simply led the way out of the cafe. He walked with his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his too-big coat, his shoulders hunched over as if he was embarrassed to be so tall, so noticeable. Yongguk followed him out into the fading march light, zipping up his jacket.
“I go this way,” he muttered distractedly, noticing that the cashier had written her phone number down at the very bottom of the napkin.
“Me too,” Junhong said in that same quiet voice, and the two awkwardly fell into step as they headed down the crowded sidewalk.
Neither spoke as they twisted and wound their way through the busy streets, crowded with other students and business executives going home from school and work. They were complete opposites even in the way they walked. Yongguk strutted along with his shoulders thrown back, head held high, arms swinging powerfully by his side. Junhong, in comparison, trailed along in his wake like a dark shadow, trying to close in on himself as much as possible. He kept his face tilted downward so that, between his mask and his floppy fringe, very little of his pale face could be seen.
Yongguk found his eyes creeping over to his middle schooler as they walked briskly. Junhong had the collar of his coat turned up even though it wasn’t all that cold anymore, hiding even more of his face. There was something off about this kid, something that bothered Yongguk for some inexplicable reason, but he couldn’t figure it out. He shouldn’t care anyway.
They maintained their silence until they reached Yongguk’s apartment building. “Well, this is where I live,” he said, stopping and gesturing to the building behind them.
For the first time that day, Junhong met his gaze. The younger’s eyes were hollow and flat and - Yongguk confirmed with a strange, sinking feeling - there was definitely something off about them. “I know,” Junhong said quietly. “I live here too. We’ve been neighbors for the past five years.”
I love Banglo. Bang Yongguk is my ultimate bias ^^