Having just returned to Seoul after a year of studying in England, Junmyeon was glad to be home. He was still trying to overcome the jet lag, staying in bed even though it was already five o’clock in the afternoon. He was awake for a bit when it was noon, but he fell back asleep again, and even now that he was awake once more, he still did not want to get out of bed.
Yawning, Junmyeon moved to retrieve the phone that somehow ended up under his pillow. There were so many people he needed to catch up with now that he was back, most of them being his friends and teachers from high school. Before anyone else, though, he had been catching up with his family, in particular his elder sister Hyoyeon who was getting married soon.
Since Junmyeon was reluctant to leave the comfort that could be provided only by his bed — and after all it had been a year since he had experienced this same comfort — he opened his Instagram to have a look. The first instastory that popped up was from Yoona, a sunbae from Junmyeon’s old high school. They got acquainted when organizing extracurricular activities together a couple of years ago, and Yoona was also one of Hyoyeon’s close friends.
Junmyeon saw his sister’s face in Yoona’s instastory and was not surprised — he knew it was her bachelorette party last night, and it seemed like everyone had been drinking a lot.
Junmyeon had always wondered what bachelorette parties were like. Of course, he had never attended one nor would he ever be invited to one, but was it really anything like the way it was depicted in the movies and on TV? Did people just hire strippers and hookers, get hella wasted, and make decisions that they were going to regret? Yoona’s comprehensive instastory convinced Junmyeon that that was pretty much the case. He saw that one of Hyoyeon’s friends, Jessica, was sitting on the lap of a male — hey, hold on. Some of Yoona’s snaps might have been blurry but this video had everything captured with relative clarity. That was not just any male . That was Wu Yifan.
Ouch. Junmyeon felt as if someone had stuck a dagger into his heart. That hurted. He wished he could unsee this — he must have been cursed to have to watch his ex-boyfriend make out with someone else.
Shaking his head, Junmyeon tried to remind himself that he and Yifan were technically not even boyfriends at any point. Sure, they went on a couple dates, but that was all last summer before he left Seoul for England. And when he left, Yifan was heartbroken. From then on, they were only following each other on social media but did not exchange any texts or calls. No conversation; all that was left was their memories.
So what right did Junmyeon have, to be jealous or to feel hurt by this? And now that he thought about it, he would probably run into Jessica at his sister’s wedding as she was supposed to be one of the bridesmaids. Junmyeon groaned and facepalmed. No, no, he had already suffered enough throughout his final year of high school in England. Now that he was back in South Korea he was not going to allow himself to be unhappy. Even just getting out of bed, exiting his room to grab something to drink would be good. So he did exactly that, and sat down at the dinner table waiting for the rest of his family to come home.
Very soon, his sister was home. “My dear brother,” Hyoyeon piped up. “Why do you look so melancholic?”
“I’m just sleepy,” Junmyeon replied with a pout, clearly not ready to talk about his devastation yet. “I see you’re in a good mood though.”
“I’m actually more stressed about the wedding preparations than I look,” said Hyoyeon, albeit with a laugh. “Perhaps when it’s your turn to get married you’ll understand.”
“Hmm,” Junmyeon shrugged. “Noona, I’m so envious of you, you know?”
“Ah, what do you envy me for?” Hyoyeon asked. “Are you sure it’s not just the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ mentality that’s making you feel this way?”
Eh, at least you aren’t still hung up on the one that got away, nor do you have to witness him making out with your sibling’s friend, thought Junmyeon to himself. But ultimately he decided that sounded too cynical, and he did not have the heart to ruin his sister’s pleasant mood. So in the end what he said was, “I envy you because your love life is going smoothly and now you’re even settling down with the love of your life. When will I ever be able to relate?”
“Awww, Junmyeon. You’ll get that chance someday as well! I’m just ahead of you because I’m older than you — it doesn’t mean you’ll never get there,” replied Hyoyeon in reassurance.
“Yeah, well, at this rate…” Junmyeon let out a sigh.
“Didn’t you meet anyone cute when you were in England?”
“Noona,” he whined. “How would I even have the time to date when I have to squeeze two years’ worth of A-Levels into less than one year of study and ace the exams for all my subjects?”
“True that, true that,” she chuckled. “Weren’t you going out on dates with that tall Chinese guy from your old high school though? Before you went abroad.”
Junmyeon buried his face in his palms. “Yeah. Yifan.”
“Yeah, him. What happened to him?”
“Oh, I don’t know, why don’t you ask your friend Jessica?” He blurted.
Hyoyeon giggled. “Not even she herself can keep up with her own chaotic love life, so I wouldn’t go there,” she said. “Well, now that you’re back in Seoul, do you think there’s any chance at all that you can rekindle what you had with Yifan?”
“I’d have to find an excuse to get him to agree to meet up with me. Alone.”
“I’ll let you think about that then,” she replied. “But if that doesn’t work out...I can set you up with someone who’ll be at the wedding.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it,” Junmyeon nodded reluctantly.
Despite what Junmyeon had previously said to Hyoyeon, even after a couple of days his head was still empty and he still had no thoughts about how to approach Yifan. This was a problem as he was going to be reunited with Yifan very soon, and in person too — at their old high school, it was time for the graduation ceremony to be held. And since Junmyeon was an alumnus, and he was friends with so many others from the graduating class, he also got to attend the ceremony as a guest.
The graduation ceremony also came with celebrations which involved a string of performances ranging from choral speaking to dance to music. The entertainment captured highlights throughout the year, including the singing contest more than half a year ago. Some of the winners, such as the school’s favorite vocalist duo Luhan and Jongdae, as well as the school’s it-couple Baekhyun and Kyungsoo, were going to perform a remix of what they delivered for the contest. No one but the performers themselves were privy to what new elements and features would be added to this time. Everything was kept under wraps which only made it more exciting and mysterious, and everyone was looking forward to that stage.
Before the ceremony and the entertainment could begin, the graduates had some time to roam the campus one last time, take pictures and reconnect with their schoolmates and teachers. Already dressed in their graduation gowns, all the students looked pretty much the same, but Junmyeon had no trouble recognizing his group of close friends. They were also hollering his name at the top of their lungs once they spotted him, the cutest bunny among crowds of students and their proud family members.
As Junmyeon made his way to them with a broad grin on his face, he hugged them one by one. His best friend Yixing first, followed by Baekhyun, then Kyungsoo, and then Chanyeol, and finally...Yifan.
All of them engulfed Junmyeon in the warmest embrace. They could not stop gushing about how much they missed him and how excited they were to get to see him again. Yixing had missed his best friend so much he could cry. Even Kyungsoo, who was usually a .jpg, showed his .gif side to Junmyeon this time. Baekhyun was always loud and energetic, and so was Chanyeol, but Chanyeol’s stepbrother Yifan had always been one of the quieter ones.
Junmyeon did not know if he should go ahead and hug Yifan just as he did with everybody else. He felt like he ought to just go for the embrace since he did miss Yifan a lot, and it would be rude to leave him out. But then...was a hug really the most befitting way to express how he felt toward Yifan? His heart was actually racing — Yifan was even taller now than when they last saw each other. His big hands, his sharp jaw, his beautiful eyes...everything. Junmyeon missed everything about Yifan.
it. Junmyeon gulped and wrapped his arms around Yifan anyway, the same way he did with all his other friends. Yifan returned the gesture, but the awkwardness was there. It felt slow, or maybe everything was just in slow motion, cinematic-style.
“It’s so nice to see you again,” said Junmyeon afterward, looking up at Yifan earnestly. He meant that with all his heart and he hoped that his sincerity would not be doubted. How he yearned for Yifan every single day of his life when he was abroad, and how little of that yearning Yifan knew about.
“Yeah, nice to see you too,” Yifan replied. He was no less genuine, but it came off as way more awkward when he said it aloud than how it sounded in his head.
“How have you guys been?” Junmyeon asked, facing all of his friends so that nobody would feel left out. He was actually more updated about how his friends had been doing, since they talked so frequently on social media. It was only when it came to Yifan that Junmyeon was relatively clueless.
As they one by one talked about what they had been up to and what their plans after high school were, Junmyeon listened to them attentively. Yifan on the other hand already knew about all of that, so he kept his gaze on Junmyeon. Although he maintained his default resting face, deep inside he felt conflicted. His heart was telling him to hold nothing back, to run to Junmyeon, to profess his undying love for him, and to never let him get away again. But at the same time, he could absolutely not forget how Junmyeon broke his heart last summer. They had been going on dates and everything seemed to be going so well that Yifan really thought they could develop a romantic relationship. But then he suddenly found out that Junmyeon was not going to attend the final year at their high school, since he was going to be flying to England and spending his final year there. Yifan was shocked to say the least, and saddened, and angry, and lots of other things. Surely Junmyeon had known about this a long time ago but he deliberately kept that a secret from everyone. And then he left without saying goodbye, without any consideration for Yifan’s feelings. Throughout the entire year that he was away, Yifan blamed him. He could not believe how selfish Junmyeon was. Junmyeon had hurt him so deeply, and Yifan swore he would never forgive and never forget.
With a slight frown on his face, Yifan tore his gaze away from Junmyeon and checked the time.
“I think it’s time for us to proceed to the hall and get seated,” he pointed out gently, not to sound like he was utterly uninterested in catching up with Junmyeon because he was. He wanted to know how Junmyeon had been spending his days in England, if Junmyeon spared any thought for him while he was overseas and they were separated, and if Junmyeon felt even the slightest bit of remorse for leaving him like that.
“Yeah, we should probably go in now,” Yixing suggested. “There won’t be much time between the ceremony and the entertainment, especially since we have to get changed and all that, so let’s all come back to this spot and catch up afterward!”
The graduation ceremony per se was actually quite boring. Speeches were given, hands were shaken, certificates were awarded, people bowed, clapped, took photos, and that was pretty much it. At least, that was the serious part. Most of the people in attendance really cared more for the entertainment because who could turn down a good performance from some of the most artistically talented students that this school had nurtured?
Everybody was eager to find out how the performances for this occasion would be different from the stages during the singing contest. As usual, Chanyeol was appointed as the MC, as that was the image that he had built for himself over the years: the school’s go-to MC. And when it came to the final performance of the day, everyone was already on the edge of their seats, knowing that the best must have been saved for the last.
“I overheard a lot of our graduates’ conversations today,” Chanyeol began. His job was to get the audience hyped for the performance but everyone was already so ready for it. “And the two things that were said most frequently were ‘I wish you happiness’ as well as ‘goodbye’. Because we don’t know when we’ll be able to see one another again, and even if we do, we would probably be very different people than who we are now,” he explained. “Addressing this sentiment, we have prepared a stage that will feature your favorite vocalists, your favorite dancers, and more. Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for it?”
Seeing as the audience’s reaction was so encouraging and enthusiastic, without further ado Chanyeol stepped back and the curtains reopened to reveal about 10 students on stage. Junmyeon from his seat in the balcony could see that there were 5 boys and 5 girls but he could not see their faces clearly, as they had their backs to the light source and they were all crouching.
When the music started playing and the lights finally shone on the performers’ faces, Junmyeon gasped. Yifan was there on stage. Yifan was there! Junmyeon might have looked calm on the outside, but on the inside he was definitely freaking out. Holy , he was not prepared for this.
Everyone in the audience was cheering, and Junmyeon was smiling too, all through the song. Contently, he listened as they sang and danced on stage. Yifan was mostly dancing at the back since he was so tall, while Yixing was at the front, taking the center position. The whole dance was probably choreographed by him too. His class did become the overall champion at the Inter-Class Dance Competition after all.
They all looked like they were having fun and Junmyeon could not have been prouder. At the same time, he also wondered when Yifan’s lines would come. Perhaps he would get a whole rap verse to himself, probably in the bridge. Junmyeon knew just how talented Yifan was and how passionate he was about rapping. But when they got to the second verse right before the chorus, Yifan was in the center, and he sang.
“We pretend not to know each other, looking elsewhere…”
Junmeyon’s jaw dropped in astonishment, simply because Yifan sang, not even because of the lyrics that did not even register in Junmyeon’s mind. Yifan hardly ever sang, and those on stage with him were all better vocalists than he was. But the one time he sang, Junmyeon was fortunate enough to get to hear it with his own ears, and instantly his heart began to race. Yifan only had two singing lines, which was not surprising considering the lines had to be distributed among 10 performers and surely the audience would expect the most singing parts to go to the winning vocalists from the singing contest. Those two lines were certainly not much, but it meant a lot to Junmyeon. Yifan’s voice was actually lovely; he just never had much of a chance to shine. More often than not he was overshadowed by the others who were no doubt amazing singers as well. But Yifan. Yifan was everything.
Junmyeon’s mouth remained wide open for the rest of the stage. Although nobody else in the room could possibly be as smitten with Yifan as Junmyeon was, they were all astounded at just how stable Kyungsoo sounded when he nailed the high note toward the end of the bridge. Junmyeon had always known that Kyungsoo was good at singing, but he never knew Kyungsoo was this good.
During the final chorus, as the confetti fell, Junmyeon’s focus once again returned to Yifan who was now the center. That was his rightful spot, and he held that spot until the very end of the performance.
“I wish you happiness, now goodbye, goodbye…”
As the song finished, they bowed to the audience who gave them a standing ovation, and that was the final performance of the day. Afterward, the principal went on stage to give a speech, but of course it was not as captivating as the performance just now. Junmyeon could not get over the beautiful vocals that he was blessed by. He was absolutely mesmerized by Yifan. Yifan did not even rap, he just sang his two lines and danced with everyone else, but Junmyeon was already enthralled. Yifan was so precious. How desperately Junmyeon wanted to protect precious Yifan...and yet he was also the one who hurt Yifan most deeply.
Thinking about his previous conversation with Hyoyeon, Junmyeon figured that there had to be a way for him to reach out to Yifan and make things up to him. He wanted to make it up to Yifan, and he hoped — prayed — that Yifan would forgive him for leaving without saying goodbye last year.
As the principal went on and on, Junmyeon ignored all of what she was saying and focused on his own thoughts. How different things would be if he never left for England, if he had stayed in this high school to spend his final year with Yifan. They would definitely have officially become a couple already. And if Junmyeon got to call Yifan his boyfriend, then naturally he would be bringing Yifan as his plus-one to Hyoyeon’s wedding...hmm…
That was just wishful thinking, Junmyeon knew. If only he had half of his sister’s luck when it came to love. That would have been great. But no, he had to screw it up and even though he wanted Yifan back, Yifan might not want him back anymore.
Feeling uncertain but not entirely defeated, Junmyeon slowly exited the hall when the ceremony came to an end. He met up with his friends, wondering what plans they had afterward.
“Yifan, are you still going to join us? Or you got other plans?” Baekhyun asked, winking at Yifan and then tilting his head slightly in Junmyeon’s direction. Junmyeon understood that their friends knew that he and Yifan used to be a couple back then (well, almost a proper couple) and now that the two of them were reunited, Junmyeon sure did want some alone time with Yifan; he just wished he knew how to fight for it.
“Aren’t we supposed to go to the karaoke box? Of course I’m joining,” Yifan answered smoothly, absolutely no discomfort or awkwardness detected. It was as if he did not even so much as pick up on what Baekhyun was putting down, which surprised his friends quite a bit.
When no one said anything, Yifan went on. “Junmyeon! My friend! Do you wanna come with us? It’d be lovely if we could all hang out together as a big bunch of friends, ‘cause after all, now that we’ve graduated, who knows when we’ll be able to do that again? Can’t count on a ‘next time’ anymore.”
That sounded like shade. Yifan was not wrong, though — after graduation, they would all be going to different universities, or seeking employment, or taking a gap year, each of them embarking on a different path to find their own place in this world. But what Junmyeon was most focused on was Yifan’s choice of words. ‘My friend’? ‘Friend’? Really? His heart skipped a beat when Yifan spoke directly to him, and he almost gasped when Yifan friend-zoned him so blatantly.
“Yeah, join us, it’s gonna be so much fun,” Yixing added, looking at Junmyeon hopefully.
“I mean...sure…” Junmyeon drawled, not out of hesitation but in disbelief at Yifan’s attitude.
“Alrighty! Let’s go!” Chanyeol chimed in. “I’m excited.”
At the karaoke box, the group of friends had a lot of fun singing their favorite songs at the top of their lungs. But not exciting enough for Junmyeon to completely forget how Yifan treated him just now. He supposed Yifan had every right to be mad or feel hurt about where they left off the last time they saw each other, but Junmyeon would honestly rather be hated by Yifan than have to settle with just being friends with him. He knew he had to find a way out of this friend zone, and quick, but how?
Hey, why not use a song to make a statement? We’re already in the karaoke box, so it makes sense to take advantage of the circumstances, said a voice at the back of Junmyeon’s mind.
There was no time to waste. As soon as Yixing had finished singing his favorite Mandarin song, it was Junmyeon’s turn, and the song of his choice started to play. Without hesitation, he picked up his mic and began to sing smoothly. When he got to the chorus, that was the part that he was singing only so he could convey to Yifan that he could not possibly stand to be nothing more than friends.
“The friend label is a label that I got to hate. The feelings I’ve hidden still remain as a painful secret memory,” he sang, gazing intently at Yifan who chose to keep his eyes on the big TV screen that displayed all the lyrics. It seemed all their other friends understood the hint that Junmyeon was trying to drop, whereas Yifan remained expressionless and unmoved. Junmyeon could see, from the corner of his eye, that Chanyeol gently nudged his stepbrother as if motioning for Yifan to give some sort of response to Junmyeon, but the stoic expression on Yifan’s face was here to stay.
After the chorus, there was supposed to be a rap verse, and Junmyeon knew he was not going to do a very good job at it. He and his friends were all expecting Yifan to cover that verse, but he did not fold to the pressure. He made no effort to pick up his mic, and that verse was going to start in a couple seconds’ time.
Shooting a quick glance at Junmyeon, Chanyeol felt sorry for him. Chanyeol knew that it would be awkward if everyone just stayed silent throughout that rap verse, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He grabbed his mic and stepped up, rapping that verse with precision and without missing a single beat.
Having successfully diffused the awkwardness, everybody happily joined in and harmonized with Junmyeon when the chorus came up again. Everybody except Yifan, still so stubborn and there was still no change in his facial expressions. Absolutely nothing could pressure him into giving in, not even when he was the only one who was not singing. But Junmyeon was also not going to give up that easily. He knew that the bridge would be another opportunity for him to express to Yifan what he could not say with mere words.
“I’m sorry that this is a monologue. Oh, the truth is, I love you. If only the secrets that had been long-hidden were revealed, I would be holding you in my arms now,” Junmyeon continued to sing, from the bottom of his heart, and none of it was faked. There was no acting needed, nor was he being dramatic, when he truly felt that way towards Yifan.
Contrasting Junmyeon’s loving gaze and voice that exuded affection and longing, Yifan only felt relief when the song was over. Yifan refused to let any of his emotions show on his face, feeling the need to put some sort of barrier between Junmyeon and his own feelings. The farther the emotional distance between them the better. Yifan would be an idiot to take him back so quickly and allow himself to potentially get hurt again. Of course, he was still attached to Junmyeon, but how could he not have learned his lesson after the way Junmyeon heartlessly left him last summer? Why risk getting his heart broken once more? Why be so open about how he felt when he could keep all of it to himself and protect himself that way?
The next song that came on was a song full of rap verses that Yifan and Chanyeol were very familiar with. So they took over, and Yifan rapped and sang with energy. He was enjoying himself, even though he could still feel Junmyeon’s eyes on him. Good. He wanted Junmyeon to only have eyes for him.
At the end of the night, they all had to go home, taking public transport that went in different directions. Junmyeon alighted from the subway at the same station as Yifan and Chanyeol did, and after that the stepbrothers were supposed to walk home whereas Junmyeon still had to take a bus to get home.
"Here we are," Chanyeol announced when they reached his doorstep. "Oh man, we should really hang out more often. I'm gonna miss this so much."
"Definitely. We have to stay in touch," Junmyeon replied heartily. "By the way, Chanyeol, you don't mind if I just have a word with Yifan, right? It'll just be a couple minutes."
Junmyeon knew better than to directly ask Yifan if he wanted to talk — he was not going to give the tall Chinese boy a chance to say no. Chanyeol giggled and agreed right away, stepping into his house on his own to give his stepbrother and Junmyeon some alone time that was much needed.
Yifan watched as he got abandoned by his own brother. It was not as if he hated to be left alone with his almost-ex — actually, scratch that. He had been dreading this moment.
"What's up?" Yifan forced himself to ask casually as if it was not supposed to be awkward at all. Given their history, their whole year of not talking to each other, how he tried to put Junmyeon in the friend-zone earlier today, and Junmyeon's little stunt in the karaoke box just now...it was very awkward.
"Oh, I was just wondering how you've been doing, since we haven't seen each other in a long time..." Junmyeon began. Inwardly, he had so many doubts. Should he have just cut to the chase instead? Should he have apologized? He was not even sure what exactly he wanted to say to Yifan; all he knew was that he needed to have a conversation with Yifan, just the two of them.
"I've been doing okay," Yifan answered vaguely, offering no further explanation. "How are you and