"Okay, Jongin. Today, it's going to be my mission to get you out of your crabby mood. I'm determined to make you smile."
"That means you're going to have to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Got it?"
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Well, too bad. You're going to be with me all day, whether you like it or not."
Baekhyun sighed. Even he, the most carefree, happy-go-lucky person anyone could possibly know, was beginning to get fed up with my constant apathetic attitude toward everything and anything I did. I hadn't cracked a smile since the day we had met at the dance studio. Not once. Baekhyun, as a person who couldn't go half a second without smiling, couldn't stand it. Now, he was willing to do anything to get me to be half as cheerful as he was.
Baekhyun was at the wheel of his small, beat up car, chatting nonstop in the hopes that I would actually choose to respond. His words were far from the realms of my comprehension, however. My mind kept being pulled back to before. Before Luhan left. Before my mom got married. Before I left Incheon and everything had been so much less complicated. Before I had decided to go ahead and mess everything up.
My eyes failed to process the sights that flood the streets of downtown Seoul. My ears were deaf to the cars that honked around us. My heart was numb to any feeling; any emotion. Life was at a standstill, and I didn't know how to push forward.
"You're probably really hungry," Baekhyun said, glancing over at me with a hopeful glance. "Mr. Kim said you haven't been eating." He lifted his right arm off the wheel and poked my middle. I shifted away from his touch. It was like I was allergic to any hint of human interaction. I didn't bother replying this time.
"Okay, let's go to lunch!" His falsely happy voice had no affect on me whatsoever. He rolled down the windows, allowing the cool wind from outside to invade the confines of the car and ruffle our hair. I squinted against the intensity of the cold air, my eyes watering.
"Where?" So far, my sentences consisted of, at most, two to three words. It wasn't difficult to get by. I only succeeded in creating a chink in Baekhyun's impenetrable armor of joy.
"I don't know...Oh! I got it. We'll go to the mall. They have a lot of places and restaurants to choose from. You can decide once we get there. I'll give you complete freedom!"
"Freedom to leave?"
"Nope. Don't even think about it. I'm not letting you leave. I promised Mr. Kim that after today, you'd be one-hundred percent happy. He's worried about you, you know."
"He said that we should do the audition together. Would you be up for that?"
"Cool," he said, letting his calm facade slip to reveal the excitement that existed underneath. He was having too much of a good time. I knew he didn't mean to forget how miserable I was, but I couldn't help myself from getting annoyed with him. "We should rehearse a whole lot. I can't dance to save my life," he continued, laughing casually, "but I do sing. Mr. Kim says I'm pretty good, so I guess I can accompany you if you dance. Or else we can, you know...both sing. It doesn't matter either way. Your choice."
"What?" He sounded puzzled, as if he had never been asked that question before in his life. I stared at his face, my own absent of emotion. His eyebrows came to together in a frown, eyes shining with evident confusion.
"Sing. I want to hear you sing."
His voice was reluctant as he said, "Oh...okay...I guess I can. But only because you successfully included more than three words in that last sentence."
I simply blinked at him, ignoring his last comment and waiting for him to start. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath, pretending to be engrossed in the road that lay ahead of us.
"Actually," he breathed out, his voice rough and quiet. "I'll sing for you later."
I myself frowned. What was wrong with singing now?
"Oh, look, we're here," he said a little too enthusiastically. It was obvious he was afraid I was going to ask him to sing again.
We pulled into the parking lot of a small strip mall. The expanse of black turf was relatively empty, a few small groups of people milling around its edges. It was far too early for the expected crowds that would eventually swarm the mall. I didn't know whether to be frustrated or thankful. On one hand, we were really early, which meant no hordes of bustling shoppers and obnoxious teenagers. On the other, I still possessed bitter thoughts concerning the fact that Baekhyun had arrived at my house at seven in the morning. My mood was, due to my early rise, at its lowest possible point.
Baekhyun slid smoothly into an empty parking spot, keeping his eyes from meeting mine.
"I'm so hungry," he said to me, turning to grab his bag from the back seat. "How about we get burgers?"
"I don't care."
"Alright, then let's go."
We both exited the car, slamming the doors behind us. It was cold, the chilly wind seemingly passing through my body. I wore nothing but a thin, white, wife beater. My shiver of discomfort didn't go unnoticed.
"You cold?" he asked me, pure selflessness saturating his tone. He sounded a lot more concerned than I would have been if I were in his place. "Here, take this."
I watched in silence as he shrugged off his dark green windbreaker, momentarily dropping his bag to the ground and handing the jacket to me. I took it in my hand wordlessly, but hesitated slightly when I saw that he, too, wore nothing but a t-shirt.
That in itself broke through my sour mood. His pure, selfless acts of kindness were still intact, staying consistent with the personality I remembered. I suddenly felt like an ingrate. He was trying to make me feel better. He was really trying to help me get over Luhan, and all did was meet his efforts with stony silence and stoic glances. Ironically, I realized that was how I had always been. It was ridiculous to think that people like Luhan and Baekhyun had ever been drawn to me and able to become friends with me. I was so cold; unfeeling; selfish;
"I'll be fine," I said, handing the jacket back to him. "You're gonna get cold, too."
"Nope, don't worry about it," he replied, waving off my upraised hand. "You're already in a bad mood. I don't want the cold making it any worse."
Guilt surged through me, racing neck in neck with the frigid shivers that wracked my body. All I ever did was cause people trouble.
I walked up to him and slung the jacket over his shoulders.
"Wear it," I said stiffly. And I turned and walked in the opposite direction.
I slowed my steps as the sound of Baekhyun's efforts to catch up with me drew nearer. I felt him match my stride as we reached the end of the parking lot and stepped onto the concrete sidewalk leading up to the grill.
"Thanks," he murmured softly. I wasn't sure whether it was his intention for me to hear his word of thanks, but I nodded in acknowledgment.
Does it hurt that much to voice your feelings? Especially if they're the first warm feelings you've experienced for a good forty-eight hours. Try and converse with him, for goodness' sake. He's doing you a favor by taking you out and feeding you. Can't you be the least bit grateful?
I cleared my throat. "I should be the one saying thanks. So...thank you." I tried to make my voice sound as fervent as possible, but all I heard escape my lips was a blatant monotone.
He seemed to grasp the meaning behind my words, though, and smiled up at me. I mustered up the warmest smile possible and returned the favor. His droopy, brown eyes widened in surprise.
"Yeah, I suppose I did," I replied airily, approaching the entrance of the grill and pulling the door open. I motioned for him to enter first. He obliged, a lopsided, satisfied grin playing on the edges of his mouth. The smell of sautéed onions and barbecue hit my nostrils as we walked in. Only then did I realize just how much I had been neglecting the needs of my stomach.
"Baekhyun?" A waiter approached us as we entered the grill, smiling curiously and eyeing Baekhyun with an appraising look. "Is that you?"
"Hey, man," Baekhyun said happily, practically skipping over to the guy and enveloping him in a friendly hug. "Haven't seen you in ages. How are you?"
I stood there, observing their friendly exchange. I stopped myself before I could judge the guy too harshly. He was handsome, his black hair a messed perfectly, reminding me a little of Luhan. His sharp jaw line extenuated his soft facial features. He was in full uniform, a crisp white polo tucked into beige khakis. A small, metal name card was pinned to the left side of his shirt.
His expression carried natural gentleness that seemed to mirror Luhan's and Baekhyun's characters perfectly. It seemed like I was the only one who carried the slightest bit of coldness or resentment.
I looked down at my feet and cleared my throat, interrupting their heart-warming reunion.
"Oh sorry, Jong," he said apologetically, ceasing his conversation with his friend. "This is Jongdae. He also gets coached by Mr. Kim."
"Hey," I said, trying to sound as friendly as possible. "I'm Jongin."
He approached me with a smile, his eyes twinkling.
"I see you've stolen my nickname. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted. Nice to meet you," he stuck out a hand while simultaneously lowering his upper torso in a slight bow. "I'm Jongdae."
"So you get coached by Mr. Kim? What do you do? Dance? Sing?" I wanted to crawl into bed and hibernate in embarrassment. My attempt to make conversation was pathetic.
"Oh, I sing," he laughed heartily, exchanging a knowing look with Baekhyun. "I can't dance to save my life. I heard you're amazing, though. Even better than Taemin from SHINee."
I snorted, realizing too late and trying to hide it with a slight cough.
"I wouldn't say that," I said after recollecting myself. I tried to ignore Baekhyun's amused glance. I didn't need him interrupting my oh-so-flawless attempt at being even the slightest bit modest.
"You're doing the audition for SM right?"
I nodded, wondering to myself how information traveled so quickly in a city like Seoul.
"Wonderful. I am, too. I have a feeling you'll definitely make it in."
"Oh, I don't think-"
"You will," he said firmly. "And if I don't get in with you, would you do me a favor?"
"Sure," I said tensely, curious as to what favor I could possibly deliver to him.
"Kick Chanyeol's and Kyungsoo's asses for me."
I relaxed, smiling to myself. Now that I could handle.
YAYY! update!! this isn't the juicy stuff,
but it IS fluffy and another intro to yet another
exo member. introducing.....(drumroll please)
CHEN-CHEN!! <33 He's so cute, I love him to
pieces :3 anyway, yeah this chapter is pure
fluff, but IMPORTANT lol i made it long-ish
too cuz i felt bad for not updating often
enough. i promise taemin is coming soon ;P
don't worry, im looking forward to introducing
him too <33 comments please!! love you!