— chapter two —
♢ DRIZZLE ♢
The truth is, life is just full of subtle beginnings.
At age seven, Kyungsoo sits calmly at a bench during recess drawing pencil sketches into his school notebook, watching the world around him behind thin lenses that help him observe. Kim Jongin, social butterfly, wipes the sweat from his forehead and smiles as he pounds away at the handball court. Kyungsoo sketches the ball, misses the person. Conversely, Jongin misses the sketches and notices the person.
The teachers talk about Kyungsoo all the time: "He's such a calm boy," they say, and the kids talk about Kyungsoo, too. "Freak", “Loner”, they call him, and it’s probably because Kyungsoo is a “Rich Boy”. It’s evident in the way the crowd of boys snicker at Kyungsoo as a shiny black limousine picks him up in front of the school campus after the bell rings, and as Kim Jongin pedals to his family restaurant to help his mother out every afternoon, even he watches the license plate of the vehicle fade out his vision without care.
But he glances back every now and then, and Kyungsoo is always there on the same bench, deeply concentrated on something in his notebook. He sits two tables away in class and on some days after a heavy rain, Kyungsoo comes to school with a pack of tissues in hand, nose tinted scarlet from the friction of Kleenex. It’s always a routine like that with Kyungsoo; he never really changes. That’s the second beginning between them. They approach like cuts in a stop-motion animation film: snippets in chronological order, chop, chop, chop, to build a story.
In high school, Kyungsoo sits right next to him in calculus. Jongin’s peripheral view of the boy that had come in closer cuts with the passing years magnify until he's a mere foot away, but he still does not utter a word. Jongin always watches him, the boy with thick framed glasses and big, quiet eyes, the boy whose fingers flit over smooth surfaces of canvas and oil pastel during lunch when he and his friends pass by the art room to get to the soccer field. One of life's greatest mysteries is how two people born on the same scope of the Earth can lead such different lives. But sometimes, Jongin closes his eyes and he thinks he can see all the colors he’s seen on Kyungsoo’s canvas swim in spots across his mind. Their worlds collide and… and today, he thinks…
… Maybe, if he’d introduced himself back then…
Maybe, if he’d said something – anything, he would have known.
He would have known why Kyungsoo loves the leaves in the spring and why his fingers linger on every paintbrush longer than Jongin could ever appreciate and why the birds come back to his lawn every morning even if no one is there, even if Kyungsoo isn’t there anymore. He would have known why Kyungsoo spends all day looking outside the window at the pouring rain when they’re trapped between the walls of school and why he did what he did and why…
Why he thought it was the right decision to make…
And he knows he shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts six years down the road, but as Jongin stands in the shower with the water rushing over his sullen face and down his slender body, he can’t help but hold on to the memories of Kyungsoo. It’s not a choice anymore, thinking about him. It’s voluntary torture.
Outside, the sky is a dim blue, almost foggy gray. The school psychologist stretches his fingers as he waits for the new headmaster to speak.
"Where's Jongin?" Jongdae finally asks, sipping a bitter cup of Americano as dark as his soul. He stares at the rain falling outside. The window is splattered with spontaneous droplets, making the school campus and the somber sky outside look like a miserable mosaic.
"It's raining today, sir," Baekhyun replies, and the new headmaster turns to him with a curious look before he steps down from his spot on the windowsill.
"What's that got to do with anything?" he asks, like every other question he asks Baekhyun about the school. Unlike the other rapid replies, though, Baekhyun pauses at the question. A morose look flashes across his eyes for a brief second, but Jongdae is a sharp man and is quick to catch it.
A sigh leaves Baekhyun's mouth in the form of invisible fog. "Professor Kim doesn't work on rainy days, sir," he informs.
It's actually a well-known fact around most parts of DaeJun University, where the student population is small enough that all students fit in the auditorium at any given time. Jongin, or as most know him, Professor Kim, doesn't work on rainy days. No one knows exactly why, but no one tries to make up any rumors either.
"Strange man, he is," Jongdae mumbles, setting down his white porcelain mug. “How troublesome.”
It's what everyone says when they first hear it. Baekhyun quietly steps outside and gives his friend a call.
Jongin remembers the first day he really met Kyungsoo.
"Kim Jongin!" his friend calls.
Summer of 2013; Matrix Camp of Visual and Performing Arts.
"Kim Jongin, get your over here you dreamy ; come on!"
"What?" Jongin turns his head from the window, blinking.
"We’re about to start our Circle, you idiot!"
"Oh, right. Sorry," he apologizes, jogging over to the center of the lounge room where the rest of the break dancers stand in a messy ring, itching to begin their daily dance-off. "Did Taemin fix the stereo already?"
Before anyone can answer, a loud blare of electronic music roars out of the speakers stationed by the stage and Jongin winces at the metallic piercing in his ears.
"You bet I did!" comes a shout from behind the boom boxes, a bob of blonde hair shooting out of it a second later. Lee Taemin s a fist into the air. " yeah!"
"Alright, men, it's finally time!" yells Sehun, shoving the boys around him to the edge of the circle to take his stage. "Show me what you got on the track today, Taemin - I go first!"
The buzzing boys root and whistle and shout as Sehun starts slow with a light shuffle of feet that work in time to the beat of the music. He bends down with twisted knees, bounces back up and plucks the snapback from Jongin's head. The Circle bursts into laughter as Sehun smirks and flips the hat onto his own head, holds an ankle with one hand then goes low onto a handstand.
"Oh !" Taemin says, running to join the crowd of boys in wifebeaters and sweats. "Look at him go! Jongin, are you gonna take that?"
"Ohhh," the rest of the boys chant in harmony. A hand shoves him inside the Circle and the crowd expands to make a larger dance stage. "Jongin," they chant, “Jongin, Jongin!”
"Ah, this," Jongin says, giving up with a laugh. Oh Sehun saunters over to him with a pumped chest, flicks at the snapback on his head and pops it off.
"May I have this dance?" he says, offering the hat back to Jongin. Before he can snatch it away though, Sehun throws it into the air. "Come on, fight me."
"You er," Jongin curses, a huge grin splitting across his face. Adrenaline rushes through his veins and a faint buzz of excitement swallows him whole. "One round, alright?"
"If you can finish it in one round," Sehun replies, and the music rises in volume as Jongin finds himself closing into insanity step by step, step by step. Sehun taunts, makes him dance, and the boys erupt in cheers when Jongin breaks into a rapid windmill. He doesn't like dancing this way, in such a rushed format, but the hormones are zipping through his body and it makes him want to move.
Sehun responds with a UFO, bounces in a spin on his hand, and the shouts get louder. Jongin kicks into a three step, precise and sharp, and Sehun whistles, eggs him on, that bastard. When the dubstep asks for a finishing flare, Jongin gives into it, gives into the music, gives into the crowd - his back grinds the carpeted floor languidly and his legs swing in a professional swerve. His snapback enters the dance floor again.
"Jongin, Jongin!" the crowd chants; it rings and warbles in Jongin's ears as he's spinning on the floor. He finishes clean, turns in a 360 to raise himself back up, and dusts his knees as he bends down to pick up his hat. He throws it up so that it flips and he ducks, catching the snapback on his head. The boys go crazy and Jongin smirks at his friend across the circle.
"Satisfied?" he asks.
He doesn't dance like this, with alleyway antics that merely speak of hurried format, but the way the dance-off makes his heart beat is addicting. "One round, you had it," he says with finality, giving Sehun a fist pump before pressing his hat flat on his head and turning the bill to the side. "I'm out."
The music fades out of his ears and out of his system as he steps away from the Circle and into the balcony of the second floor dance lounge room. The sky is heavy with a sea of gray clouds, summer rain lurking above the surface that Jongin takes a deep breath of. Closing his eyes as the humid air fills his lungs, he sighs.
Summer camp, he reminds himself. It is the last summer before he has to leave for college and face a larger world.
When he opens his eyes again, the first raindrop kisses his left cheek, the chill rushing through his heated body. He’d never quite enjoyed the rain, but today the water feels nice on his skin so he grabs one of the jackets and umbrellas hanging from the wall hooks before jogging down the flight of stairs that spits him out into the green and brown of the camp grounds.
That’s when he meets Kyungsoo, really – when he strolls a little ways off the main dirt road that leads him away from the recreation hall and cabins and into Nature’s soft embrace. He’s walking, and then between the trees that dot his peripheral vision, he sees a silent figure that he’s spotted too many times before, a presence he’d known to flitter about the camp grounds, but never had the time to, even after fifteen years, truly know.
Holding the umbrella closer to his side, Jongin walks toward him with determined steps, shoes squelching in the mud that starts to swallow the now-pouring rainwater collecting on the surface of the earth. The trees thin out, and then…
“Hey, what’re you doing sitting here?”
Jongin steps by the boy’s side, holding the umbrella over them both. The Kyungsoo kid is cross-legged in the mud, pants soaked and dirtied with brown but he doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, he looks up with confusion clouding his visage when he realizes that the rain has stopped falling on him.
The boy’s eyes widen, the small smile on his face suddenly gone and lips parting in surprise instead. Jongin’s grip on his umbrella falters when those two orbs stare back at him, blinking once, then twice, before Kyungsoo is sputtering out incoherent words.
“W-What are you doing here?” he asks, standing back on his feet so fast that he knocks Jongin to the ground. His voice trembles along with his legs.
Wincing as the pain shoots up his arm from breaking his fall, Jongin looks up at Kyungsoo with one eye.
“Sorry,” he manages to say, groaning as he sets himself upright again. Kyungsoo blushes furiously and stays frozen in his place when he continues, “Not everyone sits in the mud voluntarily like you do – I just thought I should offer some cover from the rain is all.”
“I-I’m fine,” Kyungsoo says, and Jongin blinks back at him. “Just leave me alone, okay?”
Rain continues to pour softly over them, and the tips of the art student’s ears heat up from under Jongin’s gaze.
“I just wanted to know,” the dancer says, “about you – about why you’re so quiet... and why you always show up at school with a cold after a rainy day... why you like this weather so much.”
The loud pitter-patters fill the silence Kyungsoo brings.
“I’m not making fun of you or anything, I swear,” Jongin continues, “It’s just that I want to understand. I’m just curious.”
Kyungsoo bites his lip as he averts his gaze downward, the same expression he has on his face when peers at school approach him for anything.
“It’s just nice,” Kyungsoo explains, words short but without edge. Jongin’s ears tingle at the sound of his voice, so rare and genuine that it draws him in closer. “I like the rain.”
Jongin falls silent, but the silence this time isn’t awkward in nature. It’s a silence that says Kyungsoo’s words are sinking in letter by letter, and Jongin tilts his head up towards the open air to let the droplets fall safely on his face. His hat falls off his head and sits sunken in the mud, but Jongin smiles when he realizes that Kyungsoo is right – there is something soothing about the way the wet drops fall rhythmically on his skin, tricking down his face and soaking his cores not with coldness but with subtle warmth. Umbrella neglected on the soggy ground beside them, Jongin stares into Kyungsoo’s eyes and holds his gaze there. When Kyungsoo blinks, the sky opens its gates and the rain becomes downpour.
Jongin finds Kyungsoo outside later that day, by the solitary bench beneath the big tree planted just behind the wooden cabins. Stars glisten in the dark night atmosphere and twinkle one after another in a playful display of lights as Jongin stands, watching Kyungsoo gaze at them. The air smells of wet earth, nature’s scent after every rain, and Jongin breathes it in before joining his new friend at the damp bench.
“Hey,” he says, giving Kyungsoo a smile as he runs a towel roughly against his still-wet hair. The dank soil masks the scent of the other boy's shampoo, which trails only in faint whiffs into Jongin’s nose as Kyungsoo looks to him in silent surprise. His eyes round the same way it had earlier, but when he realizes who it is that had intruded his peace, his tensed shoulders relax.
“Hey,” Kyungsoo says back, though in a volume significantly quieter. He looks down at his feet, then at Jongin’s feet that are slipped into black and white rubber slippers. Noticing the curious pairs of eyes, Jongin lifts his toes in a playful wiggle. Ears reddening, Kyungsoo clears his throat before gazing up at the sky once more.
“It smells like worms,” Jongin comments, dropping the towel into his lap and roughing up his hair with his fingers. They feel frozen cold as he smoothes out the messy locks again.
“Does it?” Kyungsoo asks, almost inaudibly. Jongin turns his head to look at the older and nods.
“Yeah, like wet soil,” Jongin answers. “Doesn’t it?”
Kyungsoo kicks his feet a little, then nods slowly.
“Wet soil,” he repeats, “I guess. It has a name though, this smell.”
“What is it?” Jongin asks. When Kyungsoo faces him, even the crickets seem to mute their songs.
“Petrichor,” Kyungsoo answers with a small smile on his face, eyes glinting with an emotion Jongin hasn’t felt in a long time. It’s felicity.
“Petrichor,” he repeats, and the syllables rest on his tongue before seeping into his heart. He smiles back, and it’s like a secret has been shared between them. “I love it.”
Easily enough, the smiles that follow that day are plenty.
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