Summary, potential warnings: Jongin’s world is made of numbers, until Chanyeol comes in and messes it up.
Today is a busy day.
Jongin looks up at the sky through the sunroof in his room and thinks five.
Today is a busy day. It is only noon and five aeroplanes have already passed by— two blue and white, one with a red tip and two with a red and blue tail. Yesterday, eight airplanes passed by throughout the whole day. Today is a busy day indeed.
The wind blows and the trees sway, and the wind chime hanging outside the window twinkles, its glass beads catching the sun and casting rainbows across the room. 38 glass beads, he knows it by heart. He counts them again, just in case, only satisfied when he makes sure that all 38 are intact.
He is obsessed with numbers. They are his solace. You can't cheat numbers, can't change numbers. Numbers are always factual, always true. He likes numbers.
(When he was two, his father gave him a calculator in a desperate attempt to occupy the restless toddler, hoping that the buttons would distract him enough to keep him out of the wires and remotes scattered around the house. It became his favourite toy.)
He learned at a young age to keep his numbers to himself. Fifty-six, he would announce to anyone who was near or to the air if he was alone. "Fifty-six leaves on the plant," he would say, chubby little fingers reaching for the fake potted plant in the dentist's office.
At first they entertained him, smiled at his words, marvelled at his innocence. "Isn't he smart?" They asked each other. "So good with numbers. He's turning out to be a math genius already!" As the years passed and it became apparent that it wasn't a phase, praises turned to whispers turned to taunts.
"Maybe you should get him checked," they suggested to his mother when they saw how he preferred to hide in the corner pressing buttons on his calculator instead of playing on the slides like the other children. "Is this normal?" Is he normal?
They sent him to so many doctors who asked too many questions, and Jongin gradually shrank under the weight of scrutiny. Eventually they found that his love for numbers wouldn't interfere with his life and sent him home.
Even now when Jongin thinks about it, he wants to laugh, because he still remembers the reassuring smile on the doctor's face when he said, "Your son is normal, Mr. Kim." At that moment, his mother had smiled brightly, and for the first time in ages, hugged Jongin tight. Years of insisting that there was nothing wrong with him, and his parents only believed him when some stranger in a white coat said so. Some people— no, humans cannot be trusted.
Through the concerned whispers, Jongin found solace in his numbers, clutching them to his heart.
Under his breath, he softly counts the number of times the girl beside him on the subway presses the buttons on her cell phone as she text messages her friends. He gets to 1,760 when she glances over at him with a wary expression on her face. He lifts his chin to stare straight into her eyes and she ducks her head down and continues to punch furiously at her tiny keypad.
He catches a glimpse of the glowing screen, and sees the lopsided circles and slanted I’s of the cute font she has installed on her phone. The kid beside me is weird. Keeps muttering to himself. Bet he's a stalker.
Jongin stares at the blurry walls zipping by. 1891. 1892. 1893.
The boy comes in at precisely 6:45pm.
He's holding the flyer Minseok hastily pasted on the windows last week after Jongdae quit without notice. "Hey, are you guys still hiring? I thought I was hired. That Minseok dude said to come in on Monday."
Jongin ignores him, turning his back to the newcomer in favour of counting the number of bread packets. When he starts counting, he tends to forget about everything else in his surroundings. It's a great way to set aside his worries, but Jongin doesn't have many worries in the first place. His life consists of his bed, his numbers, and his work. There is little room for problems to appear
"Are you ignoring me?" The boy asks, a hint of impatience in his voice. He frowns at Jongin and waves to get his attention, but Jongin resolutely thumbs at the bread, setting the tray back on the shelf. "Hello? Yoohoo~ Look! The newspapers are on fire." His weak attempt at distracting Jongin only earns him a snort. "Hey. Okay, fine. Do that." He crosses his arms with a pout, but makes no move to leave, staying to watch Jongin change the labels on the shelf.
"36," the words slip out of Jongin's lips without him noticing, a habit cemented afters years and years. There are 36 bread packets. They'll probably sell out by 4pm.
"It's 35," the boy tells him, rocking on the balls of his feet.
Jongin frowns, because that would mean that he's wrong and he's never wrong. He glances over and does a quick recount and the boy just grins, reaching up to tug at his large ears. Jongin wants to press those eyebrows down.
"You have an unhealthy fixation with numbers." Not a question, like all the others who has ever noticed, but an observation. "I’ve been here a few times. You're always muttering under your breath."
Jongin brushes him off as an ever smiling idiot and as far as he's concerned, idiots' opinions don't matter. He bites down on his bottom lip and moves on to rearranging the bottles of coke, pushing down at the annoyance and embarrassment at being caught making a mistake.
"That's so weird," the boy continues, pushing on despite Jongin's obvious discomfort. He must be one of those types, like the perky blond waiter from the cafe next door, Taehyung. Sehun once said that Jongin should be able to get along well with Taehyung, because one is terribly socially inept, and the other overcompensates to gain friendships—Taehyung always manages to get on all of Jongin's nerves, somehow he suspects this boy will be the same.
Jongin feels like punching the boy's teeth in.
The he tilts his head and flashes that smile again. "It's kinda cute."
Whatever retort Jongin had dies on his lips.
"So I thought about it." The boy comes in again the next day, crunching noisily on a packet of uncooked ramyeon. He chews with his mouth open, Jongin notes with disgust. "Your number obsession, I mean." He leans against the counter and watches as Jongin finishes counting the cash in the register.
Jongin scribbles the number in the record book, signs it hastily and snaps the book shut with more force than necessary, startling the other boy. "Please hurry up so I can leave."
"Chanyeol," he pulls the nametag on his chest forward and jiggles it around. "Call me Chanyeol."
"I have 5.3 minutes until I miss the bus." He lives so far from the city that the bus heading to his neighbourhood only comes once every hour. If he works the evening shift like today, he has to catch the bus right after he finishes or miss the last bus of the day. He can’t afford to hang around.
"Could it be the result of some childhood trauma?" Crunch, crunch, crunch. A noodle flies out and lands on the counter. Jongin winces and is glad he's not on cleaning duty tomorrow.
"5 minutes now." Jongin considers tapping his foot to emphasize his urgency, but that would require too much energy on his part.
"4.6." Without waiting for a reply, Jongin locks the register and grabs the bag sitting on the counter. He brushes past Chanyeol and pushes the door open, the muted bell signalling his leave.
Undeterred, Chanyeol sticks his head out of the door and waves cheerfully. "Goodbye, Jongin!"
Jongin's hand flies to his chest but realises that he has taken off his nametag a while ago.
The first note appears three weeks after their first encounter.
In the past few weeks, Chanyeol has hung around while Jongin finishes closing up the register, trying to keep up conversation with Jongin but Jongin tunes him out completely. Most days, Chanyeol runs in out-of-breath wearing another red uniform, teetering dangerously close to being late. That leaves Chanyeol only enough time to stutter out a quick hi before Jongin swings the door shut in his face. Jongin has to admit that he's curious as to where Chanyeol works before his shift at the convenience store but that would be breaking his resolve to ignore Chanyeol's existence.
For a moment, Jongin stares at the yellow post-it. The post-it was stuck on top of the record book, with no name addressed, but it was obviously meant for Jongin because Jongin is the only one that touches the record book other than Chanyeol.
Minseok dances past with his mop, singing girl group songs into the stick like it's a microphone stand. He twirls and laughs loudly when he almost smacks Jongin's face with the mop. "What’s that?"
Jongin instinctively crumples up the note and stuffs it into his jeans pocket. "Nothing. Just an extra receipt."
After some consideration, he rips a roll of blank receipt paper from the register and scribbles a quick warning, hiding it in between the pages of today and tomorrow.
Please refrain from leaving me any more notes. It is extremely unprofessional.
The next note is white, with little teddy bears having a picnic across the bottom.
Jongin's fingers start to clench around it, but before he actually crumples it, he changes his mind and tucks it gently into his breast pocket. It burns in his pocket the rest of the day, distracting him enough as his hand flutters up to check if it's still there. Minseok eyes him curiously when he catches Jongin tugging at his uniform enough, but he says nothing.
Maybe it’s the nice weather, or maybe it’s something else that Jongin doesn’t want to think about, but he finds himself humming the whole way back.
He grows used to seeing notes taped to the register or tucked in the record book. Chanyeol doesn't seem to mind that Jongin mostly ignores him.
On good days, Jongin sends a reply, usually just a quick observation about his day (Yes, today was busy. 25 customers by noon. They spent ₩47,500.), or a scalding comment about Chanyeol's lack of intelligence (</i>If you spent less time watching girl groups, maybe you would stop making mistakes in the record book.</i>). Chanyeol always answers those with extra enthusiasm, leaving three or more notes stuck all over the register, with too many exclamation marks and all caps.
"So cute," Sehun coos, when he catches Jongin tucking a heart shaped post it into his wallet. "This grade school flirting."
Jongin takes revenge by sending Sehun to clean up the mess after a baby throws up in the store.
Jongin has grown to anticipate each post note and he'd rather burn in hell than tell anyone, but he files each note away in a box, carefully marked with the date and the number.
Naturally, when Jongin walks up to the register (he does not rush to the counter, not at all) and finds nothing, his day is thrown off course. He even lifts up the cash register in case a note has fluttered underneath, but the effort from lifting the heavy register only leaves him breathless and disappointed.
Sehun very wisely keeps out of Jongin’s way the whole day because Jongin threatens to shave his hair bald the next time Sehun trips over his own feet.
Chanyeol finally shuffles in at 7:12pm (It’s not like Jongin is keeping count or anything. He just notices. Really), face drawn and dark eye circles prominent. When he sees Jongin, he still says hi enthusiastically like always, but today, his smile doesn’t seem to reach his eyes.
“Jongin,” he greets happily, throwing his arms open for a hug. Jongin manages to duck away just in time, causing Chanyeol to hug air and almost stumble.
After so many months, Jongin only half-heartedly pretends to be annoyed by Chanyeol’s over-friendly gestures, and Chanyeol knows this all too well, returning his scowl with a bright grin. Jongin jerks his head towards the staff room. “I’m heading to the back for my things.”
The door is left open halfway so Jongin can see Chanyeol as the older boy shuffles behind the counter. He tries to ignore how gaunt Chanyeol looks, but Chanyeol looks like he hasn’t slept for three days and then some. In the four-and-a-half minutes Jongin has been in the staff room, taking his belongings out of the locker, Chanyeol has yawned six times and sighed thrice. Even Sehun, who went through the days like a zombie due to his habit staying up all night to play Minecraft, looks more awake than Chanyeol.
Minseok notices him staring at Chanyeol's face and sits down beside Jongin, lowering his voice to say, "I’ve been trying to get him to cut down on the number of shifts he takes."
Jongin clicks his locker shut and frowns. "He looks dead."
"Yeah, he's taking multiple jobs to pay his way through college. I think he took the semester off."
Chanyeol drops some change and curses, the coins clattering loudly on the floor. Never missing a moment to tease his co-workers, Sehun flutters over and starts tsk-ing at him, all the while just standing there and not helping Chanyeol pick up the coins. Oddly enough, Chanyeol doesn’t even fight back. Usually, he would have Sehun in a headlock by now.
Jongin uses the back of his hand to bat Minseok’s shoulder and all but demands, "Stop giving him shifts."
Minseok fixes him with a steely glare and cocks his head. "I should stop giving you shifts. When's the last time you took a break?"
Jongin opens his mouth to retort, but his mind draws a blank. When was the last time he passed on a shift?
Chanyeol takes over Jongin's shift, and a shy boy named Yixing fills in for the shift between theirs. Sometimes, Yixing takes a few days off due to the numerous international dance competitions he enters, so Chanyeol or Jongin end up extending their shift to cover for Yixing's. They really shouldn't be taking on so many hours, but Chanyeol needs the money while Jongin likes the monotony of the job.
"I’m giving both you and Chanyeol a break." Minseok nods determinedly and grabs the shift timetable off the hook at the back of the door, eyes scanning the clipboard to see when he can afford to have two employees missing. It’s nearing the end of the school term and most students have their final projects or examinations coming up, leaving a shortage of part-time workers.
A bubble of laughter escapes Jongin and he grins, shaking his head at Minseok. He gently takes the timetable out of Minseok’s hands and hangs it back on the hook. “You and I both know I won’t take you up on the offer.”
Minseok gnaws at his lower lip and looks worriedly on at Chanyeol, who is visibly falling asleep at the counter. “Neither will he.”
78 post-its line the box now, a mix of rainbow coloured paper and dark scribbles. Minseok commented the other day that Jongin seems happier lately.
"You actually seem to look forward to each day now," were his exact words.
Jongin can't help but admit, he does look forward to each piece of paper. It boggles him how someone as bright as Chanyeol would want to talk to someone as quiet as Jongin.
Jongin is the number 47, a number between here and there, insignificant and meaningless. 47 disappears in the sea of numbers, overshadowed by the divisible-by-5 45 and quarter of a century 50.
Chanyeol is the number 9. Everyone loves the number 9. It's an important number- nine lives to live, nine SNSD members. Nine is power, nine is strength.
9 is also unpredictable.
Chanyeol doesn't appear for the next few days. Yixing shuffles in at 7pm each day. Jongin genuinely likes Yixing, he does, but there's always that little churn of his stomach whenever Yixing walks in sleepily instead of the tall boy that usually bounces in with too much cheer.
"Do you know what happened to him?" Jongin asks Sehun casually, trying to appear nonchalant as he undoes the string around the stack of magazines. Sunday evenings are the busiest because the store gets the next week's issues sent over and Jongin has to organize all of them. They stopped letting Sehun do it after he mixed up Women's Weekly with Maxim. Sehun's excuse was that both magazines had females on them; how was he to know?
"Who?" Sehun checks the expiry time of the sandwiches and chucks one of them into his bag. Sehun always hides one or two sandwiches at the back of the shelves, out of reach so that no one bothers to take it. By the end of the day, the sandwiches would have passed their sell-by date, and Sehun's dinner is settled.
"Um, that tall gangly kid." There are 23 magazines sent over, one short from the two dozen they ordered. Normally, it'll make him twitch with annoyance but he feels too tired to be annoyed today. Jongin flips the discarded package wrapper over and notes down the serial number so he can file a complaint later.
Sehun pauses, another sandwich in his hand. "Are you worried about Chanyeol?"
Jongin hums nonchalantly. “We’re co-workers. Isn’t that what normal people do?”
"You’re friends with Chanyeol now? But you have no friends!"
The pen in Jongin's hand slips, sending a blue line across the form he was filling. Jongin lets out his breath and grabs a new sheet, trying not to stab the pen into the back of Sehun's head. Sehun's hair is already all the colours of the rainbow and then some; another colourful object sticking out of it wouldn't be out of place. He squints at Sehun, who has dug his phone out and is excitedly scrolling through it. Little brat; cellphones aren’t allowed during working hours. "Who are you calling?"
Sehun holds the phone to his ear and sways his head from side to side. "Lu Han. Oh my god! He needs to know this."
Sehun is a terrible friend, Jongin decides, pressing the pen onto the paper viciously.
Jongin is in a particularly bad mood today because he found out that another couple moved into his apartment. Now the number of tenants on his floor is odd instead of even, and Jongin can't explain why that irks him a little. His next door neighbour, Taemin, or #4 as Jongin calls him because he assigns everyone numbers instead of names, gushed on about the new couple in the elevator all the way down and apparently it's some tall stoic-faced guy with his equally tall, stoic-faced boyfriend.
"He’s from Canada," Taemin whispers, all hush hush and conspirational, "but I’m not sure where the boyfriend is from. He doesn't speak a word of Korean. At least I think they're boyfriends? Jungli-" (number sixteen from room 413) "knew Kris from work and said he underwent some quarter of the century crisis. He always was some cookie-cutter nice guy, headed straight for the manager seat, so it surprised everyone when he quit."
Jongin nods understandingly. Ages that are divisible by five always make people panic. 20 is the end of reckless abandon, 30 is when you're expected to produce results, 40 is the revenge of the beer gut.
"Maybe that was what made him move in with his boyfriend. I can't imagine how his parents must have taken it."
Jongin spares Taemin a quick look, his eyebrows shooting into his bangs.
"Not that it's not okay," Taemin backpedals quickly, holding his palms out in front of him. "Because it's totally okay."
Jongin stabs at the buttons on the lift extra furiously, and Taemin takes a cautious step back.
"Jongin, no one will judge you if you bring a boy back home." Jongin bites the inside of his lip at this, swallowing the alarm lodged in his throat. Taemin considers himself one of Jongin's closer friends, and even then they both know they're more of acquaintances than anything else. Jongin doesn't have friends. When did Taemin figure it out?
"Your mail was delivered to me one day," Taemin admits sheepishly. “Um, it was an interesting magazine.”
Jongin widens his eyes because he can’t mean- “Don’t you dare,” he warns, straightening his back to appear extra intimidating. It doesn’t work; Taemin is exactly his height.
“Boys and Toys,” Taemin continues, a shit eating grin on his face. “I thought it was a gadget magazine but oh, oh.”
At the next floor, Jongin pushes Taemin out of the elevator and refuses to let him back in.
"Jongin," Minseok greets, looking up from where he was mapping out cleaning duty for the next week. He rummages in his pocket and pulls out a familiar yellow paper. The smirk is barely hidden as Jongin all but lunges for the post it.
Jongin only remembers to control himself too late. Minseok's smirk is blinding. He tries to hold it in but resistance is futile. The question slips out, "Is Chanyeol back?"
"No, he took a few days off. He just asked me to give this to you."
Jongin's hands shake when he unfurls the crumpled paper. What he sees comforts him, but makes him widen his eyes in surprise. There are no happy musings or excited ramblings this time, only a line of numbers, a phone number. When has numbers, the only thing that has ever comforted him, become so stressful?
"Chanyeol is a nice guy," Minseok begins, carefully avoiding Jongin's eyes. Everyone knows Jongin is like a wild animal; corner him and he bolts.
"Chanyeol is an odd number," Jongin insists, running his fingers over the list of numbers. 0106476- 010647- 0106. Minseok frowns so Jongin continues with an explanation, but it falls flat on his tongue. How do you explain when you've never understood? "I’m an odd number. We- we clash."
"Oh." Minseok watches how Jongin has moved on to ripping tiny pieces from the post it, crumpling it up and letting it fall to the ground. He grabs the magnets that pin the cleaning roster on the clipboard and lays them side to side. "Chanyeol is an odd number, and so are you," he nudges one of the magnets towards the other and they snap together, sticking fast. "But together you make an even, so it balances out."
Jongin doesn't know why that makes sense, but it does.
In the end, Minseok keys the number into Jongin's cellphone while Jongin suffers a tiny breakdown from the thought of possible extensive social interaction in the bathroom.
When Jongin stops hyperventilating and flapping his hands around, Minseok gently hands him a wet tissue for him to wipe his face and his phone in the other hand. "I texted him, by the way. Asked him why he went missing."
It's just like the notes, Jongin tells himself, except with another medium. Still, his heart still pounds when Chanyeol sends back a text, screaming with caps and hearts.
The ramyeon that he cooked goes cold because he's too busy tapping on the keys of his phone. Conversation flows easier when the response is instaneous, even if Jongin starts off with stiff one-liner replies.
His phone pings when he is brushing his teeth, mouth full of minty foam.
If Jongin wasn't so socially challenged, he would have said that Chanyeol almost sounds like he's flirting.
The last thing Jongin sees before he falls asleep is an address. Jongin ^^ come find me ^^
Jongin waits at the door uncertainly, wondering for the 100th time why he even bothered coming. No one comes to a BBQ restaurant alone, and he can already feel the questioning glances the other customers shoot him. He didn't reply the text from last night, instead staying awake all night staring at the address until his phone drained of battery and died with a low whine.
"Are you waiting for the full party to arrive?" a waitress asks politely, a pleasant smile settled on her face.
"Oh, no, I was just-"
"Jongin!" Chanyeol rushes over, a megawatt grin on his face. He's balancing a tray of meat precariously on his palm, and holds three bottles of soju in other. Jongin tries not to stare at how Chanyeol's hand is large enough to fit around three bottles, and it doesn't even look like a stretch. "You came!"
Jongin rubs his arm and nods. Chanyeol starts bouncing, and the tray of meat slides sideways before Chanyeol remembers to right it. "I’ll just serve this and come back to you!"
Jongin is gone before he returns.
The next day, Jongin heads to the register as soon as he arrives.
There are no smiley faces on the note this time, no exclamation marks, just plain squiggly text.
“Is Chanyeol back at work?” He asks Minseok, pocketing the note it carefully.
Minseok chews on the tip of the pen he was using to fill in the cleaning roster and shakes his head. “No, I gave him a week off. The boy almost nodded off at the cashier last week.” Chanyeol must have dropped by during the night shift.
It takes Jongin three erased drafts before he sends Chanyeol a text. I'm sorry.
Chanyeol’s reply comes, cheery as always. Come again! I'll be waiting n__________n
Jongin pretends he isn't concerned when Chanyeol finally appears at the convenience store. He certainly doesn't mark down each day on the pocket calendar he keeps, counting down the days until Chanyeol returns.
The jingle of the bell even sounds different when Chanyeol pushes the door open.
Chanyeol wraps him in a hug, laughing boisterously. "Jonginnie~"
This is all very heart warming, but the air in Jongin's lungs are rapidly depleting, so he struggles out of Chanyeol's grasp. "Are you okay now? I'm sorry for the other day-"
"Shh," Chanyeol cuts him up with a pat on the head and an indulgent smile, "you're tired, Jonginnie. Go home." Chanyeol nudges him towards the door and waves, jerking his head up to ask him to leave.
Jongin misses his train because he hides around the corner for a few more moments, watching Chanyeol chatter happily with Minseok. He seems fine, albeit a bit tired. The knowledge that he is okay makes Jongin sleep better at night.
Once upon a time, Jongin lived a very simple life. He woke up, he ate, he went to work, he slept. There were no variables named Chanyeol, no complications of colourful pieces of paper. They are stuck in a limbo among acquaintances, friends and something more, when Chanyeol's sweet words sends Jongin into a puddle of confusion. He can figure probabilities and statistics of any given data, but he can't figure out the probability of Chanyeol returning his feelings. Human interaction is a gaping unknown.
Jongin thinks he's being very inconspicuous with his moping, until Sehun catches him lifting up the cash register in case any notes slipped under. "Do you miss your boyfriend?"
"Chanyeol's not my boyfriend," Jongin replies automatically, cursing when he realises that he just played into Sehun's trap.
"Can you please sort out whatever is going on," Minseok chimes in, "because I do not want to deal with two moping employees. We're service-with-a-smile, not service with a daily service of doom and gloom."
Sehun seems a little too delighted at the idea. "Chanyeol is moping too?"
Minseok laughs wryly, because Sehun should know. He shares half his shifts with Chanyeol.
"He’s totally gay?"
"He tells me about the girls he sees," Jongin protests, thinking back to the first post it. Come to think of it, sometimes Chanyeol tells him about the guys he sees too. And the puppies.
"He has a rainbow unicorn badge on his bag," Minseok points out.
Jongin blinks up at them, not understanding at all. "Unicorns are lovely mystical creatures."
Sehun exchanges a quick glance with Minseok. "It says PRIDE in block letters."
"One of the seven sins. I thought he was making a statement!"
"Oh my god," Sehun says, bringing a hand up to cover his open mouth.
"Oh my god, indeed," Minseok echoes, shaking his head sadly.
The gears in Jongin’s brain finally slides into place, registering what Sehun and Minseok are saying. “Chanyeol is gay?”
“Balance,” reminds Minseok. “You have an hour’s break right now.”
The waitress recognises him this time. “Do you want me to call Chanyeol out?” She asks, pleasant as ever. She doesn't comment on how he's breathless, or how his bangs stick to his forehead from the sweat. She's a nice waitress. “He’s on a break.” She directs Jongin to the side of the restaurant and tells him to wait.
Jongin’s mind is a whirlwind of exhilaration. 18 customers in the restaurant, 26 beer bottles on the table, 5 staff on the floor-
He can’t do it.
At the sight of Chanyeol, Jongin completely forgets the speech he has prepared. What did he come here for? How did he ever think he could accomplish this, when Kim Jongin has spent his entire life a hermit surrounded by a blanket of numbers? He needs to take baby steps.
“Meet me. Tomorrow. Before my shift, outside the store.”
“Why?” Chanyeol is understandably confused, but Jongin only shakes his head.
Maybe tomorrow he will fare better, after a whole night of preparation. “See you.” With that, he rushes off, ignoring Chanyeol’s calls for him.
Chanyeol is already leaning against the side of the convenience store when Jongin arrives. He takes a moment to admire Chanyeol's side profile, all lean muscle and lanky limbs. He's taller than Jongin, and more built, so he fills out his clothes better than Jongin ever will. The faded denim jacket Chanyeol is wearing suits him, even if it's too thick for the scalding hot summer.
Just like always, Chanyeol lights up when he sees Jongin, like he is someone special instead of just some boy that works in the same store. He doesn’t smile this way at Sehun, Jongin has noticed. “Hey.”
Jongin decides to start slow. He’s moving too fast, even he knows this, but sometimes… sometimes… it’s okay to skip the working and go straight to the formula.
"Hey, where were you these few days?" I waited. Jongin's tongue darts out on its own accord to wet his chapped lips and he's pleased to note how Chanyeol's gaze follows the flick of his tongue. It makes him feel better for what he's about to do.
"I was..." Chanyeol falters, visibly torn between unloading his problems on Jongin or brushing it off because they are practically strangers. And that is what they are, virtual strangers. Jongin has counted, run over every moment with Chanyeol in his mind and pressed out all the post-its, even the first one. In the three months that they've known each other, they haven't interacted face-to-face for more than 10 minutes a time.
Jongin takes a deep breath and gathers his nerve, darting out a hand to grasp Chanyeol by the elbow. "Please tell me I’m not misunderstanding you."
"Jongin?" Chanyeol glances questioningly at the hand on his arm and back at Jongin, the slightest furrow in his brow.
"Because I want to do this." before Chanyeol can respond, Jongin presses him against the wall, Chanyeol's back hitting the bricks with a muted thud. Chanyeol's eyes widen and Jongin meets his gaze, a silent conversation underway as he searches Chanyeol's eyes for an answer to his unsaid question. Chanyeol lowers his lashes and the barest hint of a smile quirks the corners of his lips out.
The whisper comes out hoarse, but Jongin hears it clearly all the same. "Finally."
Jongin takes it at permission, leaning forward, but he hesitates at the last minute, their lips a mere breath apart. After all, they are virtual strangers. Three months of nothing but words scratching over the surface of friendship.
“You mess up my life,” he blurts out finally, arms still propped on either side of Chanyeol. They’re so close he can see the hairs on Chanyeol’s face and the dark discolouration under Chanyeol’s eyes. Chanyeol is tired, but Chanyeol is beautiful. “My life was orderly. 1, 2, 3. 2, 4, 6, 8. Then you came with your stupid post its and stupid smiles. You came in with your 9 and pulled me out of my content 47. Suddenly, I wanted multiplications and not divisions. Do you know what you did when you walked into my life?”
Chanyeol looks overwhelmed, but his eyes crinkle with laughter and his teeth are bared wide. For a moment, he doesn’t reply, until he breathes the words out, “do you regret it?”
Jongin doesn’t even hesitate to answee, voice equally low. “How could I?” The whisper comes out with a crack, sounding almost broken. Jongin hates how weak he sounds, but he doesn’t understand why he feels this way. It’s a foreign feeling, this helplessness and fear mixed in with the heart thumping anticipation.
The moment has dragged on too long and Jongin loses his nerve. He’s just beginning to pull away when Chanyeol’s hand cradles the back of Jongin’s head and closes the gap.
The first taste of their lips has Jongin’s chest heaving. His hands fall to Chanyeol’s shoulders and he clutches at the other boy’s shirt, desperate for some leverage before his knees give out. The tables are turned now. It is Chanyeol who dominates the kiss, because Jongin has only kissed one girl ages ago, and Chanyeol certainly isn’t a girl.
Chanyeol is soft at first, but when Jongin opens his mouth in a sharp exhale, he sucks on Jongin’s bottom lip, dragging his teeth lightly across the fragile skin. His heart is racing- 92. 93. 94- and their heads are at an angle, what is it?
"Jongin," Chanyeol says, and Jongin's mind halts. Chanyeol smiles against Jongin's lips, brushing their chapped skin together. "That’s better."
Chanyeol is no longer 9. He is more than that. Chanyeol is 42, Chanyeol is life, Chanyeol is infinity. For the first time since he could remember, Jongin lets go of his numbers and finds a new source of comfort. He can feel their heartbeats pulsing against each other, the warmth of Chanyeol’s fingers curling around his back, and the slickness of their kiss. And then he loses himself and all he does is feel.
"You’re going to be late," Chanyeol manages to choke out, pushing Jongin away enough for their lips to come apart.
Jongin responds by licking into Chanyeol's mouth, capturing Chanyeol's gasp in a sudden surge of bravado. He touches their noses together and reaches up to tangle his hand into the hair at the back of Chanyeol's nape. "I don't even care."
Chanyeol whines happily at the back of his throat and presses a kiss to the tip of Jongin's nose.
It takes a while but Jongin manages to untangle himself from Chanyeol to go to his shift, promising Chanyeol that they'll meet after his shift. Already he feels uneasy that he was 3 minutes late for his shift, but Minseok didn't even notice. His manager only gave him a distracted good afternoon before returning to shelving the tuna cans.
Chanyeol hangs around the convenience store wearing a mask across his mask because he wants to see Jongin and Jongin doesn't want to see him.
"Is he okay?" Minseok asks uncertainly the second time Chanyeol manages to knock over the bottles of coke on display. The boy works in a convenient store and yet still cannot navigate in one.
Jongin is slightly saddened that he's falling for a boy so dumb.