What's in a Name?

134 Rue de Paradis

        The brisk walk home from the train station was exactly what Jaehyun needed to clear his mind of the thoughts that the letter he received that morning produced. Jitters that had him tensed up the whole day seemed to lessen as the cold air swept under his jacket. He pulled his jacket tighter in an attempt to keep warm, and quickened his pace so that he was inside the apartment building sooner. 

        Winter had come early that year, the temperature already dipping below zero degrees Celsius in early November. Christmas was just around the corner, and the streets were already filled with the decorations. One OK Rock’s ‘Keep IT Real’ had been blasting in his ear in an attempt to drown out his thoughts. The Japanese lyrics that played were mostly incomprehensible to Jaehyun, but Yuta had explained enough for it to feel as though even the song was mocking him.

        ‘Keep it real without fear, so that our feelings become honest.’ Jaehyun could only scoff at himself. Taking his headphones off, he entered the apartment to find his roommate already in, and sitting on the couch poking at the parcel that Jaehyun had received. Pulling at the flaps of the open parcel, he was peering into the packets of sweets that it held. For a grown man, he looked like a cat trying to sneak treats from the bag while its human wasn't watching.

        “It's clearly some kind of cookie in there, can we not open it yet?” Yuta groaned, though it came out like a whine more than anything. Jaehyun doesn’t really need to answer that, instead he gave the man a look and that was enough to send the message. He had opened the parcel that morning to check it’s contents, but held back from fully indulging in them before he had the chance to read the letter that went along with it. 

        "I told you, I haven’t read the letter yet.” Jaehyun says as he takes off his shoes and jacket. He is about to join Yuta in the living room, maybe take a seat at the couch to relax after a long day of work. But then he notices the look on Yuta’s face. He knows that look well enough to know that nothing good can come of it. It was the same look that the man had given him after the third consecutive weekend Jaehyun declined his offer to go out, because he just wasn’t ‘feeling it’. Yuta wants to talk. Grabbing the letter out of the parcel, Yuta inspected it. He was never one to pry, so he doesn’t open it, rather stands up and pushes the envelope into Jaehyun’s hands.  

        “You usually have the letter read between the mailbox and our front door, what’s going on?” The look of pointed scrutiny on Yuta’s face was intensifying. He could almost imagine their apartment suddenly warping into a therapy session and Yuta was transforming into Sigmund Freud. It was happening before his eyes. Nope. He needed an exit.

      “Stop, okay? It’s really fine, I just haven’t gotten a chance yet. That’s all.” There’s an unconvinced look on the man’s face, which Jaehyun stubbornly ignores before he makes his way into his room. He hears the man shout an ‘I don’t believe you’ to Jaehyun before he puts on his head phones again and slumps onto the bed. 

      The letters had become a constant in Jaehyun’s life, it had become something that he looked forward to every month. While it had started out as Jaehyun’s escape from his work, it had now become a routine. The person that wrote to him under the pseudonym of John Robin had become… a friend? But opening the letter that morning, a question caught his eyes that he couldn’t let go of. Putting the envelope that was forced upon him aside, Jaehyun stretched over his bed to reach the nightstand. Tucked between the pages of The Hour Past Midnight were the letters from John. He opens up the first one that he ever received, eight months ago. 

March 15th 2006

Dear James, 

      So I’m assuming that you read The Hour Past Midnight, and got inspired.  I was wondering when you would get tired of the pity party that you were throwing yourself. After the last letter, I wanted to write back to assure you that someone is reading your letters. Also, I was kind of curious about this sensationalist conservative propaganda that you have to write about.

       I have one question. Why The Hour Past Midnight? I’ve read it, and it’s not a great book. It doesn’t have a good ending, not much of a plotline, a horrible depiction of the city of Paris, and honestly, who writes a hundred letters to someone they are not getting a response from? How the author got through 200 pages of unironic self-loathing while doing absolutely nothing about it is beyond me. Look, even you, a writer, got tired after the third. The fourth one was actually kind of funny. 

       I think that was a rude enough start to this letter. Anyway, the address that was on the book is actually a real place. While it’s not an upscale condo, it’s a modest apartment complex. You did not include an apartment number, but being the only John who spoke fluent English, naturally, the letter ended up in my hands. Well. The actual reason that I got the letter is probably that I’m the only one here that looks like they might get a letter from South Korea. So there’s that too… fair enough, I do look Korean. But that’s as far as my connection to the country goes. 

        So, James Marseille, tell me. If not spreading propaganda, what do you want to do?

Yours truly, 

J.R.

        Jaehyun couldn’t help but smile, he remembered being so offended the first time that he read what the man had to tell him. He had even begun to write back a strongly worded letter of annoyance- how could one possibly criticize a work of art that he held so close to his heart? It wasn’t often that Jaehyun felt so connected to a work of fiction, but the book was something that he had read over and over again, finding the beauty of the words bloom each time.  The cherry on top was the stranger’s audacity to criticize the letters that he had written himself. No one asked him for his input.

        The argument about their opinions of the book lasted another three letters before they agreed to disagree, and settled it at that. It wouldn’t be the last time that the topic would come up. Nevertheless, they continued to write. Conversation shifted from the book to Jaehyun’s dreams, it was odd because he felt completely comfortable divulging his innermost thoughts to this stranger from across the world. He told the man that he wanted to move to the US, to become a local journalist chasing relevant stories. An unrealistic dream. The man that wrote under the name of John Robin told him that it was exactly the type of thing the character of James Marseille would say in the book, and Jaehyun was better than that.

        There was a certain image that Jaehyun had formed of the person who wrote to him each month without fail. While Jaehyun had meticulously and intentionally chosen each word in order to convey his thoughts, the letters he received back seemed effortless- raw. There was carelessness in the construction. The scratched out words that indicated a shift in thought, the unfiltered attitude to life that was clear between the lines. John Robin was no longer the symbolization of success from his book, but was now imbued with depth and color, a personality who inspired him to push himself further by pure force of character.

        And yet, Jaehyun couldn’t quite form a full picture. Or maybe it was his reluctance to do so. There was a comfort in anonymity. Even as John shared more about himself, explained that his disconnect from the Korean culture wasn’t disinterest, but because he was adopted by an American couple, that he was a photographer by profession- Jaehyun learned all this with the feeling of reading a book. Collecting each detail to weave into the ever evolving tapestry of a character profile.

        Which was why reading that one sentence had caught Jaehyun by surprise. It wasn't a personal question, actually it was anything but. Still, it was enough to break the fourth wall that Jaehyun had created. 

Jaehyun reluctantly unfolded the newest letter he’d received. 

December 9th 2006

Dear James, 

        I know it's a character’s name, but I’m honestly getting tired of reading the name John. That’s the name that my parents gave me, so from ages one to eight, I kept it. But ever since third grade, when we were taught cursive letters, I decided that it would be ‘Johnny’ from that point on. I think it looks better with the extra ‘ny’. Besides, John is a middle-aged car salesman from Chicago. I’m Johnny. 

        Oh and by the way, you’ll be happy to know that I tried the recipe that you insisted I should. There’s a new store about a half hour away that sells Korean groceries, so I was able to get some of the things that you included in the recipe. Not everything, but it still turned out pretty awesome. I’ve submitted the photos to you as proof. I hope you approve. 

        On a real note, it is quite nice to learn these new things about the culture. It’s something my parents wanted me to do… I don’t know why I never felt the need to. My dad did try, gotta give him that. When I was about ten, he thought it would be good for me to learn about my roots and signed me up to learn the language. I mean, I didn’t hate learning Japanese, but it was three years later that he realized that it wasn’t the right Asian language. At least he tried.  (My dad hates it when I tell people that story. It was actually just a mix up in the papers. It’s honestly not as bad I make it sound.) 

        Since you shared a recipe from your childhood, I wanted to share something from mine. I included a sticky on all the boxes so you know what they are, but the main thing in there are the poptarts. Try not to judge too hard when you try it, because not only were they my favourite childhood snack, but also my college breakfast many mornings.  I hope you like them, as well as the other goodies in there! 

        Also, Christmas is coming up, I wrote a card out to you, but it didn’t feel right addressing it to a character in a book. Out of curiosity, what is your name? 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

J.R.

        Jaehyun had read that last question repeatedly in his head, as if the words would change if he read it one more time. He told the man certain things that he wouldn't his closest friends. The intimate details about his worries were shared under the security blanket of a false identity. With that one question, that shield was under threat. 

        When he returned back to the living room, Yuta had sprawled out on the couch with the TV tuned to the M Countdown show, playing SG Wannabe’s 'Song of Love'. Jaehyun swatted the man’s leg away to make room for himself on the couch. “Okay.” He says as he opens up the parcel once again. He takes out the box of poptarts from the package before handing the rest to his roommate to dig into. “Go for it.”

        They were both soon opening a treat each as Jaehyun’s thoughts shifted back to the letter. If he were being honest with himself, it wasn’t the idea of the man knowing his name that had brought on the unsettling knot at the pit of his stomach. Jaehyun had written those letters under a pseudonym. For all intents and purposes, they were the words that James Marcsielle wrote. Telling the man his name changed everything. His name would be associated with the letters that he had sent. A lot of which he wasn’t sure he wanted to take ownership of. It was as if he had drawn out a blueprint of what made him, Jaehyun, even the parts that he wasn't exactly proud of.  

        The smell of confectionaries had filled up the air around them as Jaehyun pulled out a pop tart out of its silver cover. The pastry filled with strawberry jam was topped off with a layer of icing and Jaehyun has to wonder how one could consume this much sugar. Breaking off half of the sweet, he hands a piece to Yuta before taking a bite of his own. It tasted exactly how it looked, and he thinks that a younger version of him might have taken to it enthusiastically. 

        The letters had shifted far from the original book, really Jaehyun had long since stopped portraying the role of James Marscielle. He had John to thank for that. With each letter he wrote, it was as if John had physically pushed the boundaries of personal space. It was natural, Jaehyun hadn’t put much thought into it as he disclosed certain details about himself. It seemed necessary to talk about his own upbringing in the country when John had asked about the culture. The man was a conversationalist, and Jaehyun couldn’t understand how he managed to put so much enthusiasm in his letters. For an idle moment he wonders what John would be like in person. 

        “Here,” A shortbread biscuit is pressed against his lips- Jaehyun took a bite, and this time there was a nod of approval. John had a sweet tooth, apparently. Despite the fact that their interactions were limited and only through letters, Jaehyun doesn’t find this surprising. The thought brings a smile to his lips. “Do you like it?” Yuta asks, and Jaehyun gives a firm nod as if it wasn’t half bad. 

        Taking another bite of the poptart, Jaehyun can almost picture a young Johnny enjoying the treat. The picture is vague,  he doesn’t know what his new friend looks like - nonetheless, it fills him with a sense of warmth. 

        But to start off a day with this before college? He can’t imagine the type of adult person that could possibly start the day with that much sugar. 

        “Where have these been all my life?”  Yuta exclaims beside him, holding another poptart reverently and Jaehyun snorts. Right. That kind of person. “Your John has good taste.” 

        “Johnny,” he corrects impulsively, then wonders at the way saying the name out loud with just the difference of one syllable hits differently. Subconsciously, he knows. He’s known the John Robin of his favorite book for a long time, and until now this John was still somehow an extension of that picture. Johnny, on the other hand, is his own person. Someone Jaehyun has grown fond of, and wants to know more about. Someone whose name is now inextricably linked to the taste of an overly sweet pastry, and a sense of acceptance of the world and himself. 

        He helps himself to another shortbread cookie and chews contemplatively. Is it worth sacrificing all that because Johnny asked a question that any reasonable person would? A question that only came up eight months into their correspondence. No. He wants Johnny in his life. And if that means signing his letters with his own name, he can live with that. 

        Tearing open the Christmas card that was lodged in between the boxes of treats, Jaehyun smiles down at the message that is so typical of his new friend. His heart does a funny little leap when he notices it’s not signed J.R. as per usual, but in cursive and with a flourish - Johnny

        Yeah, he can live with that. What’s in a name, anyway? 

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funkeymonkey
There's a book called the The Hour Past Midnight in this fic. This has nothing to do with the book that actually is published. Please don't misunderstand and associate my writing to the respectable work that the author has done. That would be a complete and utter disservice to the author. ;O;

Comments

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OdetteSwan
1004 streak #1
I read the summary of The Lunch Box.
Did Jaehyun, by any chance, see Johnny in their supposedly meeting place? Did he feel cold feet and left without meeting Johnny?
I'm so curious as to what is in Jaehyun's letter now that brought a smile to Johnny!
Please don't take a year to update.
OdetteSwan
1004 streak #2
Chapter 8: I was really surprised to see your update. Oh dear! They didn't meet at all.
What's happening now?
Jaehyun got scared and stood him up?
Thank you so much for the update.
OdetteSwan
1004 streak #3
Chapter 7: I'm so happy you're back.
I'm glad that Jaehyun is ready to meet Johnny after so many years of correspondence. He probably has to thank Hendery for helping him reach that decision. Perhaps, he feels that that is the relevant action to take now.
Thank you so much for the update.
MeinAltire #4
Chapter 6: Their letters is nice to read...
It must be interesting to have a pen pal on these days.
Great update :)
Multifanstan
#5
Chapter 6: I feel this fic so well written, so smart and clever.
OdetteSwan
1004 streak #6
Chapter 6: I really love the exchange of letters. It seems to me that they are skirting the issue of their relationship. Or was it just Jaehyun who is trying to ignore the "issue".
Johnny has always been straight forward with his thoughts and actions even to explain why it is only now that he gave Jaehyun the book and the white rose.
I love their discussion on birthdays coinciding with holidays like Christmas and New Year.
Thank you so much for the update.
Xiamin
#7
Chapter 5: Definitely worth my time. Loved every bit of it. Waiting for more
OdetteSwan
1004 streak #8
Chapter 5: I'm so glad that you updated.
It seems that Jaehyun didn't get the confession. He is even wondering about Johnny mentioning about him being set up with a co-worker. Is he annoyed?
Johnny kept referring to friends to lovers in Friends. Is Johnny alluding to the kind of relationship he wants with Jaehyun? Is that why he addressed Jaehyun as friend toward the end of the letter? Or, did he think he was friendzoned by Jaehyun?
NoorKyra
#9
Chapter 4: I bet Johnny staring at Jeahyun's photos for a long time and suddenly he's writing another letter to Jaehyun... His confession.....!!!!!


Awwwwwww...... Kudo's to Yuta for taking the gorgeous pictures of Jaehyun....

(◍•ᴗ•◍)❤
OdetteSwan
1004 streak #10
Chapter 4: Oh dear!
Johnny has fallen for him. How would Jaehyun react?
Thank you so much for the update.