Chapter TenShriveled Raisin
The sweet aroma of fried rice was amplified with the pleasant scent of eggs, perhaps omelette. This welcoming odour entered Yunho’s nostrils as a sort of morning greeting. His nose twitched, trying to recognise such delicious smell which he rarely had when he was living alone. He shifted and rolled to the other side of the bed, dragging the blanket over his body once more as he yearned for another minute of good sleep. However, not just the strong smell that kept him half awake, but it was the occasional sound of clanking silverware coming straight from the kitchen. Groaning softly, he couldn’t resist but to slowly open his eyes.
Someone was cooking?
The bright rays of sun clashed with his vision, causing him to blink twice. Yunho reached out his arm to pick up his phone from the nightstand. When he brought the screen closer, it seemed like he still had 5 minutes left of extra sleep before his alarm would start a concert. However, the sound and smell coming from the kitchen intrigued him, convincing him to wake up. Placing the phone away, Yunho sat up as he realised, he was on the bed. He remembered sleeping within Jaejoong’s embrace last night so he just assumed the angel had somehow brought him to the bedroom. He smiled at that thought.
Once he stepped out of the bedroom, the sweet fragrant only became stronger, along with the sound of silverware clinking from the kitchen. Like he was tranced, Yunho followed the source of the smell as he trailed a meandering path around the couch in the living room before arriving to the adjoined kitchen. And there he was, an equally pleasant sight of Jaejoong preparing food in the kitchen.
Living together for months both men had known how bad Jaejoong was at cooking. When the angel first prepared his dish, it was all bland as if the meals cooked were nothing but a piece of fried paper. Yunho had never tasted something so completely bland like the dish Jaejoong cooked for him.
However, overtime Jaejoong never stopped experimenting with several menus that he learned from the cooking book (which Yunho bought for him), and from the cooking shows he daily watched. Yunho even took his time teaching Jaejoong how to prepare simple dishes like instant noodles for example, basically any dishes that required less cooking.
Yunho secretly believed that Jaejoong actually had the ability to summon food because there were some rare moments where Yunho would open the fridge and saw new additions of fruits that he never bought. But he never spotted the angel summoned bigger meals and instead all he saw was Jaejoong who kept on practicing and improving his cooking skill. Sometimes the apartment would be filled with smoke, sometimes the food was burnt like ashes, and sometimes the plates and pans would have visible scratches on them. But Yunho didn’t mind, he liked watching Jaejoong trying and cooking. He secretly found it to be quite an adorable sight.
And now, Jaejoong was once again getting busy in the kitchen. There were already dishes and plates prepared on the dining table. Yunho sniffed some more and admitted that the air was indeed pleasant, indicating that the angel had probably levelled up his cooking game. Yunho approached the table and observed the meals. It seemed like Jaejoong had prepared some fried rice with plain omelettes, with sides of leftover kimchi. Yunho couldn’t help but to be surprised at this breakfast because he didn’t expect for Jaejoong to be able to prepare such food, yet. But he assumed Jaejoong to be a fast learner.
“Oh, hey. Good morning,” Jaejoong greeted as he finally realised Yunho’s presence. The angel had finished washing his hand and patted them on a dry cloth on the counter.
“Morning,” Yunho replied with a smile as he dragged a seat and settled. He hummed in approval. “I didn’t know you could fry eggs yet. An omelette, too?”
“I learned something from the TV yesterday,” Jaejoong sheepishly answered as he also dragged a seat. He rolled his damped pyjamas sleeves before resting his bare arms on the table surface. “I hope the omelette is not too salty, is it?”
Yunho took a large bite of the fried rice and egg and hummed quite in content. He showed Jaejoong a sincere thumbs up while he chewed the food. He wasn’t even pretending his reaction at all. Yunho was honestly surprised when the delicious taste melted upon his tongue. He rarely had anyone prepared him breakfast before. His usual morning meal would usually be just a glass of water, or if he departed early, he would grab some sandwich from the convenience store nearby. Jaejoong was the first one to have ever prepared him meals. And the fact that the angel spent effort in cooking them made the dishes extra worthy to be savoured.
“This is darn delicious, Jaejoong,” Yunho spoke with mouth still full, visibly amused.
“Really? Not salty at all?” Jaejoong fed himself a spoonful of his own cooking and he too, looked amazed. He ended up laughing for a bit as he chewed. “I guess I can congratulate myself, huh?”
“I love this, really,” Yunho commented as he eagerly fed himself another spoonful. “Thank you, Jaejoong.”
The breakfast shared between the men went relatively well. They cracked some small jokes, Jaejoong told some stories and recent celebrity gossips he watched from the TV, Yunho commented on the angel’s cooking and what to be improved, and so more. The two of them even discussed of some weekend plans where Jaejoong excitedly mentioned he wanted to go to the same park as before again, yet Yunho remarked he would have to see if his shifts didn’t fall upon a weekend day. And speaking of working shifts,
“How are you feeling now?” Jaejoong asked. It was apparent that he was referring to last night’s incident, as well as checking up upon Yunho’s current state now.
“A bit better,” Yunho answered, he placed his spoon gently on the plate. His wide contented smile slowly faltered. The thought of having to go to work, mixed with a daunting fear of his workplace, all still haunted him regardless of what time of the day it was. “A bit scared.”
Nodding as he listened intently, Jaejoong took his time swallowing the chewed portions in his mouth. Yunho watched silently as the angel picked up the glass and finished the water. Jaejoong clicked his tongue as he went deep in thought, brows furrowed in none other than concern.
“Would you like a lucky charm?” Jaejoong finally questioned, his serious eyes told he wasn’t joking.
“Does it even work?” Yunho asked back. He didn’t mean to sound doubtful, but he was sceptic with his past experiences of charms and amulets. They offered nothing but false hope. However, maybe a charm gifted from a legit angel would deem more realistic.
Jaejoong shrugged. “There is only one way to find out,” he remarked.
“Sure,” Yunho agreed. He assumed he had none to lose even if the said charm wouldn’t work out.
Then Jaejoong gestured out his arm towards Yunho, fist closed, and when his fingers eventually rolled outwards, a single black plume was revealed upon the angel’s palm. Yunho gave the other a surprised look. When Jaejoong nodded at him, Yunho didn’t hesitate to pick up the black feather. He brought the specific raven feather close to his face and observed it. The feather looked exactly like the ones he found on the bed previously, and no doubt it belonged to Jaejoong.
Yunho took a glance at the nearest rubbish bin. The bin was usually empty and basically clean. The only ‘rubbish’ he saw dumped inside it was a pile of soft feathers, the ones Jaejoong claimed to shed. Yunho raised a suspicious brow at the angel.
“Don’t tell me you took this from the bin,” Yunho said, acting dubious.
Jaejoong rolled his eyes before sending a knowing smirk. “And what if I did?” he retorted.
Yunho just laughed as he shook his head, knowing the exact answer to his question. He examined the black plume in his hand again, checking both sides of the feather.
“How would this lucky charm work?”
“Just keep it in your pocket or something. Trust me, it’ll help you later.”
When the dreadful hour arrived, Yunho found himself being encaged under the responsibility of his job. His two legs yearned for a rest as he remained standing behind the counter, attempting his ultimate best to display a sincere smile at the lines of customers. It was as if he was planted on the floor, cemented even, cursed not to move or wiggle around and just had to face the hordes of incoming strangers. Sometimes, his drained state would slip out of his disguise where he accidentally sighed too loud towards customers who asked too many small questions, where he rolled his eyes at the entitled and arrogant wealthy families, and where he mumbled a curse below his breath whenever someone asked him to do something out of his usual duties.
At days like this, it felt like the time was practically useless. As if some kind of a time king, demigod or God himself purposedly played foul tricks with the time and made it proceeded slower than a snail dragging itself on the floor. Even rabbits could win the race regardless if they slept under the tree for a millennial if they were to compete against this specific slowed time.
Yunho felt like his feet, no, everyone’s motion was under the influence of a ruined gravity, where his muscles were prone to tensed and pained sensations. No matter how many times he rested his legs back at home, they would never be healed. Also, it was useless to sneak glances at the clock on the wall because time simply didn’t move, and that his ‘morning’ shift would still end up at night anyway, due to the lack of staff. Yunho relied on the sun where if the moon replaced its position, then it was time to go back home.
Yet, it was worse for Yunho today. The incident of last night still haunted him no matter how hard he tried to play it cool. As expected, no one greeted him when he first entered the staffroom earlier. The feeling of being an outcast, when nobody dared to be your friend or acquaintance, such a feeling was so heavy to be endured alone. It was suffocating, especially in a situation where team cooperation was essential for a job like this. Yet Yunho had to go through that alone. He ignored his colleagues as well, striding past them with a stoic face as he placed his belongings in the locker.
But Yunho wasn’t exactly alone. The images of Jaejoong comforting him and the angel’s voice soothing him never left his mind either. Whenever he began to feel overwhelmed by the social pressure and anxiety, he recalled back the loving gestures of the angel last night, and it comforted him to the extent where he could shape a smile on his face. It would be temporary, he thought. The suffering in this workplace would be temporary and things would be incredibly better when he returned home to the embrace of an angel soon. A death angel, no less.
And talking about Jaejoong, Yunho was in leaning forward against the counter waiting for customers when he was suddenly reminded of the feather charm the angel gifted him this morning. Digging his pants pocket, Yunho scanned his area to confirm he was alone before pulling out the black plume and brought it to his face. He was still doubting on how this feather would exactly help him, but it didn’t mean he distrusted Jaejoong’s words. As a matter of fact, he believed Jaejoong. And thinking of the lucky charm, that was when Yunho finally realised something was quite… different and unusual today.
He quickly recalled back the moment he entered the staffroom before. It was indeed true that nobody spoke to him or greeted him. It was simply logical and explainable because literally everyone saw Yunho getting scolded yesterday. So maybe no one dared to talk to him because naturally he was labelled as the ‘unlikeable colleague’. But there was one thing Yunho failed to notice at first, only right now he blinked his eyes in full realisation.
Some people did greet him.
Not vocally of course, but some workers did at least try at ‘subtlety’ bidding him a morning greeting. Yunho didn’t catch their gestures because he had aimed to ignore everyone but only now, he remembered seeing someone displaying kind mannerism towards him.
There were few workers who apparently smiled at him when he entered the staffroom just now. Some glanced at him and showed a nod, not the kind of brief dismissal nod but rather an acknowledging one. There were also few workers who kept on staring at him but this time their eyes weren’t hungry for gossips but instead they looked somewhat curious and… guilty? Yunho finally gulped to himself as he stared back at the black angel feather on his palm. That was rather strange. To some people, having friendly gestures from their teammates probably wasn’t that a big deal. But for Yunho who had been treated as an outcast quite most of the times, it was indeed bizarre.
Does this lucky charm really work? Yunho asked himself. But he quickly hid the feather in his pocket again when a new customer approached the counter.
During lunchtime, it was Yunho’s routine to head to the cafeteria alone. He was usually one of the first few people who went to the cafeteria. It wasn’t necessarily because he was hungry or excited to leave his working station, but rather because he aimed to grab a singular table for himself. Somehow such singular tables were usually full during lunch. Maybe, just maybe, there were other workers who preferred solitude like him. Well, it wasn’t that he had many friends to eat with. He used to have some, but lately the others already had made a group of themselves.
However, that wasn’t how it went today, though.
Yunho was carrying a tray of lunch as he made a beeline around the larger tables towards singular ones in the far corner, closer to the vertical tilted glass windows. Yet he was immediately halted in his pace when he heard his name was called from somewhere.
Did I hear that right? Yunho asked his consciousness.
It was extremely strange. No one had ever called his name during lunch around these days. Could the manager or supervisor be calling for him? Did he do some mistakes? Were they thinking to give him extra tasks even during lunch, really? Yunho found himself turning around slightly frantic as his eyes wildly skimmed through the masses of crowd in the cafeteria, a mixture of workers and customers alike. And that was when he finally caught sight of a rather unexpected scene.
“Yunho, come here!” a familiar face called for his name from one of the large eating tables. It was one of Yunho’s male colleagues and he was waving at him, gesturing an invitation.
Yunho remained speechless for a moment. He stared at the table and there were few other workers sitting there as well. He hesitated. He was weirded out because no one had ever called him to their table and who knows what kind of foul plan this one worker had schemed for him? But Yunho was even more weirded out when the rest of the colleagues who ate at the specific table were also waving at him when they saw him, calling for him to join them. Eventually, Yunho had no choice but to head to the table despite the scepticism warning him not to do so.
Yet his scepticism was quick to be proven baseless.
Today Yunho probably had the most enjoyable lunch he ever had after years of working in the hotel. When he first seated himself between the colleagues who were strangely thrilled to socialise with him, Yunho was in the cloud of both doubt and hesitation. He flashed small smiles and was completely uncomfortable with the sudden kindness showed by his acquaintances. He couldn’t understand why would they change their behaviour towards him, it couldn’t be that yesterday’s event of him getting scolded caused them to be kind towards him instead? But soon such distrustful thoughts departed from his mind when things chan