It was like getting up too fast, but continuous. The white dots wouldn’t disappear from his vision, the pressure around his brain wouldn’t cease.
Daniel was sitting on the bathroom floor, head between his knees. He wasn’t nauseous, just terribly dizzy.
“Dude, I told you not to mix your meds with alcohol.”
It was Jinyong who was by his side, like so many times before.
“We came here to drink, didn’t we?” Daniel said through his teeth.
“I know, I know,” Jinyong said, rubbing Daniel’s back. “But this is the third time, man. We can’t go out anymore without you passing out. You really gotta stop drinking. Or smoking. Or both!”
“We both know that’s not happening.” Daniel straightened up against the wall. “I’m fine.”
“No longer dizzy?” Jinyong asked, instinctively grabbing Daniel’s arm as to stop him from standing up too quickly.
“Yeah. I’m fine, I promise.”
Jinyong helped him up, carefully. As Daniel was getting up though, someone pushed past them to get into the bathroom.
“Hey, watch it!” Jinyong yelled.
The person didn’t hear. They only proceeded to kneel by a toilet, not bothering to close the stall door.
Their bangs were getting into their face, they were struggling to hold themself up.
Jinyong approached, helping the guy keep his hair out of his face while he puked.
When he was done he straightened up, staggered to the sinks and drank some water, washed his face. Then he smiled widely at Jinyong and Daniel.
“Sweet! Now I can drink more,” he said cheerfully.
Daniel and Jinyong exchanged looks.
“Thanks for helping me out. Want me to buy you a drink?”
“Yes, please,” Daniel said, returning the smile, but Jinyong took a hold of his hood and tugged him backwards.
“No way. You were just losing consciousness, dude!”
Daniel struggled to get free and once he did, he straightened his hoodie out. “Don’t baby me. I said I was fine!”
The man looked between the two, rubbing the back of his neck. “So… drinks or no drinks?”
At this point Jinyong only shrugged, not even looking at Daniel.
“I’m Nicholas by the way,” the man said before opening the bathroom door and letting all the noise from the party in.
Daniel and Jinyong both said their names and Nicholas responded with, “Cool, I’ll definitely ask again.”
They went back inside and got their drinks. Jinyong didn’t take his eyes off of Daniel, watching out for any signs of unwellness from him. But for the most part everything was fine.
As it became apparent quickly, Nicholas was a shameless dancer. Holding his bottle of soju still, he pulled Daniel along with him. Still tipsy, Daniel went along with it, letting Nicholas hold his waist.
And Jinyong watched all of this from the side, sipping his beer, not sure how to feel. He wanted to be happy for his friend, but there was something about the way Nicholas swayed his hips that unsettled him. Soon he became uneasy, he wanted to move from there as soon as possible. But where to?
“Guys,” he said. He had to get close for them to be able to hear him, so close that he practically broke them apart. “I’m hungry,” he said.
Nicholas didn’t seem bothered. He took a sip of his soju. “There’s a pizza place down the street.”
Jinyong looked for any signs of protest on Daniel’s face, but all he found were his red cheeks and averted gaze. He said nothing.
The three of them moved along, shuffling through the crowd. Someone grabbed onto Jinyong’s sleeve and when he turned he saw that it was Daniel, trying not to get lost. As for Nicholas, it was difficult to lose him, what with his hair dyed half red, half black.
It was good to breathe some fresh air, after being stuck in a cloud of smoke for hours.
Daniel let go of Jinyong as soon as they were outside.
They walked in the middle of the street, the three of them in a line. Jinyong wasn’t really hungry. He would wind up with a slice of pizza he didn’t want, but maybe he’d be able to convince Daniel to have some.
“Come to think of it, I could use a slice of pizza,” Nicholas thought out loud.
They got two. Nicholas ate his own, while Jinyong offered half of his to Daniel. He didn’t turn it down. They sat at the small, cosy place with neon signs and a large window overlooking the empty street.
“So I don’t know anything about you.” Nicholas said. “But now that we’re hanging out you might as well tell me.”
“Tell you… what?” Jinyong asked.
Nicholas shrugged. “Anything.”
He wasn’t making any sense, not to Jinyong who was mostly sober at least.
But Daniel seemed to understand. Or, he just had a tendency to overshare when drunk.
No. It was something about Nicholas that made Daniel want to talk to him.
“What’s there to say?” He started. “The name’s Daniel Kim. I’m 25, I’m a hairdresser. This here is my best friend, Jinyong Lee. We’ve known each other since we were little and dreamed about living together when we grew up. We live together now, things are… okay for the most part, it’s just that I’m clinically depressed and I feel like dead weight most of the time.” He went quiet.
Nicholas listened with wide, genuine eyes, nodding and chewing his pizza.
“You’re not a dead weight,” Jinyong said, god knows which time already. He didn’t mind repeating though, if it would help reassure Daniel. The problem was, it didn’t seem to.
“Hey, it’s all good as long as you’re still pushing through.,” Nicholas said. “You’re here, right? Alive, breathing, having fun. Means you’re doing just fine.”
Daniel looked up and gave the tiniest smile.
Jinyong glared. What was it about Nicholas that he, a mere stranger, could reassure Daniel with such a stupid, generic statement and Jinyong, Daniel’s lifelong friend, best friend, couldn’t with all his genuine words?
“What about you?” Daniel asked.
Nicholas put his pizza down on the cardboard triangle that he had left on the table. “Well, I’m Nicholas Choi, I’m 27 and I’m a rapper. Nafla’s the stage name. I’m, uh, getting over a pretty nasty breakup so I’m in a bit of a rut.”
“Ah,” Daniel said, as if he understood everything. “How long were you together?”
“Two years. I thought it’d be serious.”
“I’m sorry man.”
“It’s whatever,” Nicholas was quick to say, beginning to search his pockets and getting out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one. “I’m just…” He sighed. “He was my producer. So I’m a bit… I can produce my own songs, but ’s tough right now. I’m struggling to keep everything up on my own.”
Daniel straightened up with a smile on his face. He took Jinyong by the shoulder and shook him a little.
“Jinyong is a producer!” He said.
“Wait—” Jinyong tried to jump to his defence.
Nicholas perked up. “You are?”
“Well—Kind of? I want to be. I know I’d be good if I got a proper chance, but so far all I’ve got is my own and Daniel’s work…”
“We’re not all that serious,” Daniel confirmed. “But we’d like to be.”
A smile danced on Nicholas’ lips. “That’s perfect! Imagine what it’d be like, the three of us, working together.” He turned to Daniel. “What do you do again?”
“Well—I’m a hairdresser, but…”
“But he’s also got a beautiful voice and is an extremely talented songwriter and composer,” Jinyong said.
Daniel’s cheeks flushed and he rubbed the back of his neck. “We just around in our friend’s studio after hours… It’s nothing monumental.”
“But it could be! If you really have talent like your friend says, we could make something of you.”
Daniel cleared his throat and spread his legs in his seat, crossing his arms. He was doing the opposite of how he’d usually shrink when embarrassed. Jinyong hadn’t figured out yet why, but he’d been doing that lately, trying to take up more space and appear… tough, almost.
“We can talk about it when we’re not all drunk,” Jinyong said tiredly.
“Good idea. Speaking of which, why don’t we take a walk?” Nicholas suggested.
And so they did. The air was chilly. It didn’t bother Jinyong, but he kept checking if Daniel was cold. Meanwhile he was baffled at Nicholas’ ability to wear a tank top and a hoodie and be perfectly fine.
He rambled a lot, about nothing and everything. Jinyong had this tendency to be overfocused when he was drunk, which was why he participated in the conversation, no matter how many times Nicholas jumped between topics.
Despite everything, Jinyong had to admit, he was fun to talk to. And Daniel seemed to be having fun too, which was all that mattered.
* * *
Jinyong didn’t hold Nicholas to anything he said when he was drunk. Jinyong didn’t even stay in touch with him. They went about their lives, went to work like any other day, went on.
Until that day, when Daniel received a message.
They were watching a movie, huddled together on their creaky couch, when Daniel’s screen lit up.
“Who’s nasungcityboy ?” asked Jinyong, having caught a glimpse of the instagarm username before he looked away.
“Nicholas,” Daniel said, picking up his phone to read the message.
Jinyong felt a sting in his chest. “I didn’t know you stayed in touch.”
Daniel flushed. “I thought he was cool…”
“Hey, do whatever you want.” Jinyong was quiet for a second. “It’s kind of cute, really.”
“What is?” Daniel snapped, but as angry as his tone was, his cheeks grew more crimson.
Jinyong shrugged. “Your infatuation with him.”
He thought for a second Daniel might deny it, but he only lowered his gaze and muttered, “He’s kind of cute.” Then he cleared his throat and straightened up, did his best to take up more space as he often did.
“He says he wants to meet up with us.”
“Looks like he was serious about all that stuff… you producing, me… I don’t even know what he had in mind for me.”
“Your voice,” Jinyong reminded. “Your song writing and your composing.”
Daniel only nodded stiffly. He didn’t speak for a while. “Do you wanna see him?”
Jinyong was genuinely surprised. “He invited me too?”
“Of course he did. He needs a producer.” Daniel leaned in and booped Jinyong’s nose. “And that’s you.”
Jinyong blinked and pulled back when Daniel booped him. He looked away and rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know… Is that really possible? Seemed more like childish daydreaming than any sort of reality.”
“It could work,” Daniel said quietly. “I mean this is what you really want to do, isn’t it? Why not give it a shot. Nafla is a somewhat known name, you know. I’ve researched him, I’ve listened to his stuff. He’s legit. He’s not just some soundcloud rapper.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“If he was legit, why would he be hanging out at a random party that our broke asses go to?”
“He is legit, he’s just not super rich.”
Jinyong shrugged, crossing his arms, still looking away.
“Whatever. I want to see him and I will.”
“Do what you want.”
They sat in silence.
“Did you take your meds?” Jinyong asked.
Daniel nodded, but refused to look at him.
* * *
Nicholas’ red and black hair stood out in the sea of heads that passed along the street in front of the Starbucks where they agreed to meet up.
He approached with a grin. “Hey, hey, hey!” He greeted with arms wide open. He engulfed Daniel into a tight hug that he was not expecting, and didn’t quite appreciate.
He pushed Nicholas away instinctively. “Sorry—” He said then. “I’m not a hugger.”
“That’s fine,” Nicholas said with a wave of his hand. “Let’s get something to drink, yeah?”
While walking in, he turned to Daniel and asked, “Hey, where’s your friend? I was hoping to see him.”
“He didn’t want to come,” Daniel said.
Nicholas gave him an odd look, but didn’t say anything.
He began the talk with a rant about his hangover from his most recent outing. Daniel listened with half a brain; he mostly focused on Nicholas’ voice, the little details of his appearance like his shaved off eyebrows and eyebrow piercings, like the way his lip quirked up when he pronounced certain words, the way he tapped his fingers while he spoke.
It wasn’t until Nicholas truly introduced the topic that Daniel began to listen for real.
“So, when it comes to the business. I imagine you’re most interested in that.”
Daniel nodded, taking a sip of his coffee and burning his tongue. He hissed, trying to cool his mouth.
Nicholas smiled and handed him a pack of sugar. “It’s supposed to help.”
Daniel grimaced, but ate the sugar raw anyways. It didn’t really help.
“I know that I was drunk that night, perhaps too enthusiastic. But I meant what I said, which is why I have had this on my mind and took the time to review our options.” He leaned in and put his palms flat on the table. “It could work. I have the space, I have the resources, I just need to hear what you guys have and I’ll see if we can do something together. See, for now I’d need help with my work, if that’s okay with you. Thing is, I’m not capable of helping you kick start your own career right now. I hope you understand.”
Daniel nodded. “Of course. I didn’t—I didn’t just come here hoping for that. I completely understand that we should collaborate.”
Nicholas’ shoulders relaxed and he gave a little smile. “Thank you… We should, um, discuss the details with Jinyong, if… if he’s still interested.” Nicholas looked down, tapping on the table. “He’d be a real lifesaver. What I really need is a producer.”
Daniel’s heart sank but he tried to swallow down the heavy feeling. It was fine. He was used to not being needed.
“I’ll talk to him,” he said drily. “He’s been all weird, I don’t know why. But… yeah, I’ll ask him.”
Nicholas nodded. “Hey, hey. You okay?” He reached out and lifted Daniel’s chin. His heart leapt and he pulled back. “Sorry, sorry,” Nicholas said. “I guess you’re not very touchy either.”
Daniel wanted to respond verbally but the only thing he was fit for at the moment was a shake of the head. He cleared his throat.
“Seriously though, are you okay?”
Nicholas may not have been touching him anymore, but he had leaned over half the table. He was just one of those people, it seemed.
“I’m fi—” Daniel’s voice came out weak and he had to clear his throat before trying again, “I’m fine.”
Nicholas nodded, leaning back just a little. “If you say so. Hey, this is gonna be great. I’m really great I found you guys. I just, well, I hope you’re as good as you say.” He grinned.
“I’ll send you some of our music,” Daniel said. “And, um, I actually have some of my lyrics with me…”
“You do? That’s great!” Nicholas leaned in again. “Let me see.”
With shaky hands, Daniel pulled out a little stack of papers out of his bag and handed it to Nicholas. Waiting ensued. Daniel wrung his hands, looked to the side.
“I like this. I like this a lot,” Nicholas said. “It’s… not all of it’s my style. But we can work something out.”
Daniel cleared his throat this time before he spoke, “I’ve listened to your music. I think I can manage something like that.”
Nicholas nodded, and nodded again. “That’s great! Wow. We could actually do this.” Nicholas reached out, but remembered Daniel’s discomfort with physical contact and withdrew. “Talk to Jinyong. I don’t mean to sound desperate. But he did mention this being what he wants to do. Talk to him because he’s got a chance with me. We can help each other out.”
Daniel nodded. With Nicholas radiating optimism, even he couldn’t help having a good feeling about this.
* * *
“Do you want some tea?” Daniel asked when Jinyong returned home, and he was not doing it because he needed to bring Nicholas up again. He was doing it just because he wanted to, because he always did so when Jinyong returned from work.
“Sure,” Jinyong said, passing a hand over his face.
Daniel gave his friend a concerned look. He seemed tired… Was this the right time to bring the matter up?
No. He needed to do this. He needed to do it for Nicholas.
When the tea was made, Daniel approached the couch with the mug and handed it to Jinyong. He looked up and gave a grateful smile. Daniel did his best to smile back.
He sat on the couch, shuffling close to Jinyong.
“Hey. I need to talk to you about something.”
Jinyong froze and turned to look at Daniel, eyes wide, eyebrows raised. “That sounds scary. You’re pregnant?”
Daniel laughed, grateful to Jinyong for lightening the mood. He ran a hand through his hair. His laughter died out. “...It’s about Nicholas.”
Jinyong’s exaggerated expression of surprise hardened, his eyes became expressionless. “Oh.”
“Listen. We met up. He’s actually serious about this! And he wants you . He doesn’t need me at all, he needs a producer.”
“Don’t say that,” Jinyong muttered.
Daniel shook his head. “It’s true. I think you should give it a shot. You’ve always wanted this…”
“But…” Jinyong sighed, turning his whole body on the couch to be facing Daniel entirely. “Why us? Did you think about that? If he’s a serious musician, why does he pick up his crew in a bathroom at a party?”
At this, Daniel stopped to think. “I don’t know,” he said at last. “All I know is that he needs help with his music. His popularity is growing, but he can’t do everything on his own. He needs you.”
Jinyong sighed once again, much heavier and exasperated. “I just don’t like him, okay? I didn’t want to say it because I know that you do, but… I have a bad vibe from him, like, I wouldn’t want to spend hours working on something with his voice in it.”
“Have you even heard anything of his? He’s really good!”
Jinyong stayed quiet. Daniel could almost see a wall breaking down.
“Let me play a song of his. Just listen to it and tell me if it’s .”
Jinyong once again didn’t say anything. Daniel jumped to his feet to grab his phone.
Sound filled the room. Jinyong sat on the couch with his arms crossed, looking down, listening intently. When the song was over, he cursed, shaking his head.
“It’s good. It hurts me to say it, but it’s actually good. Damn.”
Daniel smiled widely. “See! I told you so—”
Jinyong grimaced. “Don’t get too cocky. I’ll… , I don’t know. I’m busy these days, you know. But I guess I can meet up with him…”
* * *
Nicholas was smiling. “I didn’t think you’d show up. I’m so relieved.”
“I’m doing this for Daniel,” Jinyong said icily. Then his shoulders relaxed and he had to swallow his pride. “...and because you’re kinda good.”
That wide smile and not an ounce of humility drove Jinyong insane. “I know, right,” Nicholas said, sipping on his coffee.
“And Daniel did you a favour,” Nicholas continued. “He sent me some of your stuff. And you know, what? I think you and I could really do well together.” A sip. “Our music, that is. I’m not sure how we’ll work together logistically, what with you hating me and all.”
Jinyong’s chest tightened. “I don’t hate you.”
“You sure as hell don’t like me.”
Nicholas waved him off. “It’s fine. We can keep it a business thing.”
Jinyong still felt the need to clarify. “It’s just a thing of first impressions.”
“In that case I hope you get to know me better.”
* * *
And get to know him he did.
Jinyong didn’t expect things to go the way they did. He didn’t expect to like Nicholas as much as he did. He didn’t expect to like working with him as much as he did. He somehow expected Nicholas not to be serious, but he was, for the most part. He knew how to have fun while also getting things done.
The two of them worked day and night to finish Nafla’s next album and when it was done, Nicholas kept his promise to Daniel. They worked with Nicholas’ manager to create an image for him, to find a stage name and so on. Nicholas, Jinyong and Daniel all worked on his lyrics, his music and the songs.
It was a lot of work, but Daniel flourished in it. He had a routine, he had something to focus on, something that made him happy. He continued working as a hairdresser, but now he had a creative outlet and he was grateful for it.
The three of them also went out a lot. It appeared to be a symptom of being Nicholas’ friend. He always dragged them to clubs and parties, convinced them to drink and dance. Jinyong was often the one who offered to drive and stay sober.
Daniel knew what he was doing and it made him feel guilty for following in Nicholas’ footsteps every single time. However, the moment he and Nicholas stepped onto the dance floor that guilt disappeared.
Daniel liked Nicholas’ attention. He liked it when the two of them went for a coffee or took shots. He liked it when they danced, he liked it when Nicholas got so drunk that he forgot Daniel’s boundaries and mindlessly slung his arm around him, or pulled him close. Daniel liked it when he himself was drunk enough not to mind.
One night however, Nicholas started insisting on meeting some new people.
“But you have us,” Daniel said.
“The more the merrier!” was Nicholas’ only response before he took Daniel and Jinyong by the wrists and dragged them towards a group of dancing friends. He was the one who did the introductions and the talking. Jinyong and Daniel stayed on the sidelines.
Daniel hated it. Nicholas no longer danced with him, or tried to hug him or hold him close. He was in a dancing circle with his new “friends” while him and Jinyong just sat on a couch, smoking.
And then it happened. Nicholas pulled one of the girls close and kissed her fiercely. One of his hands was in her hair, the other on her hip. She was clinging to the front of his shirt, like Daniel used to when Nicholas would embrace him.
Daniel was sick. The moment was excruciating, and all the alcohol he’d drank that night began raising in his stomach.
But then it was over and Daniel could breathe in relief. Or so he hoped. He hoped that it was the end of it.
It wasn’t. Very soon, Nicholas got pulled in by one of the girl’s friends and they kissed while the others around them laughed, or did the same.
Daniel dropped his cigarette and made a beeline to the bathroom. Jinyong was at his heel.
Daniel dropped to his knees by one of the toilets and vomited. Jinyong was there to help him up, to hold him around the waist while he washed his face and drank water.
Jinyong was asking him if he was okay, but Daniel couldn’t respond. Not even he understood what had gotten into him.
His whole life, he had only been close with Jinyong. Daniel could see himself living with Jinyong, going on adventures with him, traveling with him, figuring life out with him, growing old with him. For the past few years, that was exactly how it had been. But then Nicholas appeared and turned Daniel’s whole world upside down. He started to question what he felt for Jinyong, what he felt for Nicholas....
Until Daniel decided that it didn’t matter. He didn’t see himself as someone capable of a relationship, not a healthy one anyway. He didn’t see himself ever succeeding in making any advancements on either Jinyong or Nicholas. Neither one of them saw him that way, he just knew it.
That night, it was confirmed.
When he faced Jinyong, Daniel crumbled. He buried his face in Jinyong’s neck and cried.
They never told Nicholas what had happened. They didn’t get the chance to anyway. He went home with one of the girls, and Daniel cried himself to sleep that night.
* * *
At first they only worked on Nicholas’ music. But over time, he began pushing Jinyong to perform as well. He insisted that Jinyong had a good voice and was a talented rapper.
They began recording songs together.
“A few months ago you hated him,” Daniel pointed out.
“That’s an exaggeration,” Jinyong said.
Daniel shifted, lifting his legs into Jinyong’s lap. “I’m just glad you came through. You two are doing well.”
Jinyong poked Daniel’s thigh. “Is something wrong?”
Something was wrong, but Daniel didn’t want to speak about it. Those days he no longer felt like he could talk to Jinyong. He was always busy, always working on something with Nicholas.
He was making a name for himself. Loopy and Nafla. They had become a tandem.
And Daniel was nothing.
He wasn’t jealous. He just missed his best friend.
And he couldn’t tell him that because no matter what he said, no matter how he put it, he would end up sounding jealous.
Jinyong kept poking Daniel, moving up to probe at his stomach until he started laughing.
“Stop!” He said through laughter.
“Not until you tell me!”
Daniel whined. “I miss you, okay?”
Jinyong stopped. “What?”
Daniel was quiet. He moved off of Jinyong, scooted over to his side of the couch.
“I don’t understand,” Jinyong said, shuffling over to Daniel while still keeping his distance.
Daniel shrugged. “I just feel like you…” He shook his head. “No. It’s stupid. Forget about it.”
“Danny, we need to talk about things if we want to work out issues…” Jinyong spoke patiently, but there was tension in his voice.
“It’s just me being stupid,” Daniel muttered, looking away. “I… I don’t know. I miss it when it was just the two of us.”
Jinyong frowned. “Hold up, hold up, hold up. Didn’t you like Nicholas in the first place? Didn’t you want us to work together?”
Daniel hugged himself. “I know, but—I thought that we’d all be friends and—neither one of you really have time for me and—” He hid his face with his hand. “It’s stupid. I told you it was stupid.”
Jinyong now sat up and embraced Daniel, resting his chin on top of Daniel’s head. He looked so small in Jinyong’s embrace.
“Oh Danny, Danny, Danny! I’m sorry, I really am. I wish I could be there more…”
Daniel shook his head, though he didn’t move away from Jinyong. “It’s fine . It’s stupid. We’re all busy, I know that, just…”
Jinyong squeezed Daniel a tiny bit tighter. “I know. But I’ll still try to do better, okay? I don’t like it when you’re sad.”
Daniel nodded and sighed. He didn’t believe Jinyong. He knew exactly what was happening and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. He’d lost Nicholas when he started with his nightly conquests. Now, he was losing Jinyong to Nicholas.
He thought that the three of them would be a team, but Daniel was lonelier than ever. And he couldn’t explain it to either of them.
It happened one night at the studio.
Nicholas and Jinyong had finished recording for their album and were sitting in the studio, drinks in hand, letting themselves absorb the fact that one big chunk of the work was finally done.
Jinyong was smiling to himself. When he lifted his gaze to Nicholas, he realized that Nicholas had been looking his way.
“What?” He asked.
“Nothing,” Nicholas said. “I just love your smile.”
Jinyong looked away, taking a sip of his soju. He looked up again. Nicholas was still staring.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Jinyong mumbled.
“Like what?” Nicholas was smiling. No—smirking.
“Like—” Jinyong wasn’t sure what to call it. The only thing that kept flashing in his mind was that Daniel would kill to receive that look from Nicholas. “I don’t know. Just cut it out.”
Nicholas stood up, slowly walked over to where Jinyong was sitting on the desk.
“I’m only admiring,” Nicholas said.
Jinyong’s heart sped up. He held Nicholas’ gaze, trying to communicate his disapproval non-verbally.
Nicholas stepped closer. Was he not getting Jinyong’s message or was he ignoring it?
“I was going to invite you out, to celebrate, but…” When Nicholas touched his cheek, Jinyong froze. “You’re tired. You should probably go home.”
Jinyong liked this idea. He nodded stiffly. “Yeah, I’ll…” When he tried to stand up from the desk, Nicholas didn’t stop him.
Jinyong gathered his things and put on his jacket.
“Wait,” Nicholas called.
Jinyong’s blood froze in his veins. “Yeah?” His voice was weak.
Nicholas walked over. He leaned in and all too casually pressed his lips to Jinyong’s. As if it was a “hello.” It was brief, just the shortest moment of Nicholas on Jinyong’s bottom lip before pulling away.
“Good job. I’m proud of us.” Nicholas smiled.
Jinyong stared at him. Nicholas started to get ready to get out as if nothing had happened.
“You—” Jinyong choked.
“You kissed me.”
“Good observation skills.”
Jinyong swallowed. Once he was ready, Nicholas stood in front of him and tilted his head. “Want me to do it again?”
Jinyong stared. His heart was beating in his throat. “Nick… I don’t see you that way.”
Nicholas shrugged. “It’s just a kiss.”
‘Daniel is in love with you, you insensitive prick!’ Jinyong wanted to say, because there was no way Nicholas didn’t know. But he gathered his bearings and instead said, coldly, “Don’t do that again.”
Nicholas nodded. “Sorry,” he said and it did not sound genuine. “Shall we?”
Jinyong was dizzy. Together they went outside. Nicholas didn’t bring up the kiss again.
Jinyong was slowly being eaten away with guilt. Him and Daniel told each other everything. Not only was this the first time he was truly hiding something from Daniel, but it was a big, guilt-heavy secret as well.
He decided that he would have to tell Daniel, that it was better to put the cards on the table. The two of them would work it out, Jinyong knew it. He hoped for it.
He was sitting on the counter in the kitchen, drinking a beer. Daniel joined him soon after, mimicking Jinyong and sitting on the kitchen table.
“I was just thinking… We’re in a position now where we can get a new place,” he said. He knew he shouldn’t beat around the bush, but he couldn’t just open with “the person you’re in love with kissed me. Sorry.”
Daniel nodded. “Yeah, I really hate it here. We should definitely start looking.”
Jinyong nodded. He was silent.
“Is there something else…?”
This is what he meant. Even when Jinyong had a secret, Daniel saw right through him. He didn’t even have to say anything, Daniel simply knew when something was wrong.
“Danny…” Jinyong sighed heavily. He was choking on his own breath. “You like Nicholas, don’t you?”
Daniel frowned. “Why are you bringing that up now?”
“Just answer me,” Jinyong whispered.
Daniel was quiet for a long moment. “Yeah. I thought I was being obvious.”
“I figured it out a while ago,” Jinyong admitted. “It just didn’t matter until now.”
Daniel swallowed. “Why does it matter now?”
The sentence echoed in Jinyong’s mind, each time getting louder and louder. He could taste it on his tongue. Finally, he pushed it out. “Because he kissed me.”
Daniel was silent. Jinyong looked up at him, looking for any kind of reaction, but the other was completely motionless, staring ahead.
His gaze snapped up at Jinyong. “Congrats. I’m happy for you.”
Daniel shrugged. “I knew something like this would happen sooner or later. I—yeah, I’m glad—”
“Daniel, it’s not like that. I turned him down, I told him that I’m not interested in him,” Jinyong tried to explain.
Daniel’s chin was trembling. He aggressively wiped his eyes. “Listen, I don’t care what’s going on between the two of you. It’s just—you two have been so close. So it doesn’t even really matter. I’ve known for a while…”
“You’ve known what ?”
“That I’m a burden,” Daniel spat out.
Jinyong blinked. “What the are you—” He went silent. “This isn’t about the kiss, is it?”
Daniel was staring at the floor. “I…” He choked on air. He cleared his throat. “I’ve been nothing but a burden to you. To everyone, but you especially. And now you found someone you can work with, someone who’s a good friend and isn’t also a—ed up mess. So… I’m happy for you.” A pause. “Maybe we should get separate places.”
“Daniel, no .” Jinyong balled his fists. “You’re wrong . I don’t know where this is coming from, but it’s not true! You’re not—”
“You just don’t see it,” Daniel said quietly. “You might disagree, but, Jinyong, I’ve gotten way too attached to you. I depend on you. It’s—It’s ing toxic, man. You shouldn’t have let me get so close, you shouldn’t have—”
He shook his head. “You can get a new place and I’ll stay here.”
“I’m not doing that,” Jinyong said firmly.
“If you won’t leave, then I will. I need to stop depending on you. I need to be away from you for a while and… I’ll come back when I’m no longer a burden to everyone around me.”
“Danny, isolation is not the way.” Jinyong attempted to sound firm.
“You can’t change my mind. What happened only proves it. I need some time apart. I want to focus on my music and… yeah.”
Jinyong could only stare in disbelief. “You’re… upset right now. You don’t mean this. You’ll come around.”
Daniel let him have the last word. But in the following days he avoided Jinyong, avoided talking to him, and worked on finding a new apartment. Because he knew that if they talked, he might end up changing his mind.
And then, he moved out as soon as it was possible.