Summary: College AU. Kyungsoo has dealt with a longtime crush on his childhood friend. When he finally confesses will things turn out the way he had hoped?
"Another! Another!" Jongin cheered from his couch as Kyungsoo downed a shot.
The new semester was hardly underway and Kyungsoo had decided to stop by his best friend's place for a quick beer or two. But pretty soon Jager shots came into the equation and in no time they were talking about everything and nothing at the same time; Jongin retelling a bunch of old stories and acting up like a dork.
Kyungsoo liked it when Jongin was like this. Most of the time he felt like his friend was putting up a front for everyone else; acting like a rebellious tough boy who felt the need to be cool 24/7. He knew the real Jongin hid inside that public persona.
They had both met back in middle school. Jongin had transferred to their school after Christmas break so he was having a hard time adjusting as the new kid. It hadn’t help that he had a permanent scowl on his face and refused to speak to anyone. Every kid that had tried to befriend him had been turned down by his demeanor and selective mutism. He kept to himself and never interacted with anyone.
Kyungsoo had shared a few classes with him, but had never made an attempt to hang out with him at lunch or recess. He thought he was an odd kid and didn’t want to bother with him. However, fate would have it they would end up sharing a room during their end of the year school field trip. Somehow, someway, Jongin decided Kyungsoo was worthy of his friendship and in no time the two boys became inseparable.
As the two boys became closer, Jongin started to act more sociably towards others. By the time they reached high school, he had blossomed into an outgoing young boy who was well liked by everyone. But despite his new found popularity, Jongin always remained loyal to Kyungsoo and considered him his best friend.
“…and then she smacked him! In front of everyone!” Jongin’s laughter brought Kyungsoo out of his thoughts. He had always loved Jongin’s laugh. He loved how it made his eyes twinkle with mirth.
“I love you.”
The words slipped out of his lips without any warning. He wasn’t sure if the multiple shots of Jager were to blame, or if it was some other conversation he had with his friend Yixing the other day that had reopened a painful wound. Maybe his heart had had enough of concealing his true feelings for Jongin. Of having him so close yet so far.
Jongin opened his eyes a bit in surprise, followed by a quick chuckle.
“Ahhh…I see the Jager has turned you into a big sap. Haha, well, I love you too, Kyungsoo. I still wonder how the hell you put up with my moody behavior back in the day. No wonder the other kids avoided me like the plague.”
He could hear Jongin’s magical laughter as he started retelling stories from his awkward phase during middle school. They had relived those memories plenty of times, and frankly at the present time he wasn’t in the mood to be all nostalgic. Didn’t he see? He was telling him something kind of important.
“Jongin, I love you,” he repeated a little more forcefully this time. The other boy stopped talking and just looked him straight in the eyes. The hell with everything; if he was going to pour out his feelings, then he might as well go the whole nine yards.
“I think that’s enough Jager for tonight,” Jongin uttered as he reached out for the bottle of alcohol.
“Listen to me! I’m being serious here!” Kyungsoo said with a raised voice. He usually didn’t show this side of himself, especially not to Jongin, but the frustration was too much to bear. He needed to let his feelings be known.
“Just listen to me please.” He repeated a little more calmly. “I… I love you, have loved you for a very long time. Do you understand how painful it is for me to have to keep these feelings to myself? Especially when I know they’ll never be returned”
He looked at Jongin for an answer, but the boy’s face was unreadable.
“I think you should just sleep this off, Kyungsoo,” Jongin finally said after a few seconds, which felt like hours. “And do try to drink some water before going to bed. Otherwise you’ll have a nasty hangover in the morning.”
He got up from the couch and made a motion towards the door. He didn’t get too far before a forceful pull on his right arm made him turn around and face a panicking Kyungsoo. He certainly was not prepared for what was about to happen next.
Normally Kyungsoo would boast about being not being one to make brash decisions. But that all went out the door the moment he pulled Jongin in for a kiss. It wasn’t the fairytale kiss he had dreamed of many times; and the mix of beer and Jager was not exactly the most romantic taste one could hope to experience. But Jongin’s lips were every bit as soft as he had imagined.
It was a desperate kiss, born from years of unrequited love. A kiss somewhat forceful yet loving and caring. He wasn’t kidding himself though, he knew this was a one way kiss and yet that did not stop the explosion of happiness in his heart. He was sure his giddiness made him imagine Jongin kissing him back for a few seconds.
Every moment of happiness vanished in a second when he felt a sharp pain on his right cheek courtesy of Jongin’s fist. Next thing he knew he had fallen back onto the table sending objects flying everywhere.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” Jongin’s voice boomed from across the room, an angry look in his eyes. “Is this some kind of fucked up joke? Because I don’t find it funny!”
Kyungsoo didn’t know what to say to his friend’s inquiries. Why had he done that? He was positive Jongin wouldn’t want anything to do with him after this and it wasn’t as if he could blame the boy.
“I..I’m sorry, I don’t know what-” Kyungsoo tried to explain but was cut off right away.
“You didn’t know what? Because it seems to me you know exactly how to fuck with people!” Maybe it was because he had been surprised by that kiss, but Kyungsoo could swear Jongin looked more distressed now than how he would usually react. He had laughed it off that one time last year when Yixing had gotten carried away with his drinking, and slapped him on the ass in front of everyone. And he always nicely turned down boys that had confessed to him in the past. He had never explicitly said it, but Kyungsoo believed his friend secretly enjoyed the attention from both genders. He was careful to not offend anyone.
But the looks he was giving Kyungsoo at the moment could have made the bravest of men cower in fear. It wasn’t exactly revulsion- more like extreme rage. He supposed it must be a hard pill to swallow to have your childhood friend confess his love and kiss you all in one night.
Jongin gave Kyungsoo one last look and left without saying anything else. He knew he had fucked up, and it would take a lot of effort before things weren’t awkward between the two. He just hoped they would be able to get past it and eventually laugh it off; after all didn’t friends always go through an awkward phase at one point or another?
“No way you did that!” Yixing exclaimed in glee after Kyungsoo told him what happened two nights before. “You sneaky bastard!”
Kyungsoo shot him a threatening look. “Would you mind lowering your voice? I don’t think the entire student center needs to know what happened.”
Yixing just shrugged it off “Whatever. No one really cares about your personal life anyways.”
Kyungsoo threw a notebook at Yixing and narrowly missed his head. “You know, sometimes I wonder why I’m friends with you.”
“Because I tell it like it is and don’t sugarcoat it? In any case, have you talked to him yet? He’s probably in a better mood by now.”
“Jongin? Highly unlikely. He can be a bit…difficult at times.” Yixing nodded knowingly. “I think I’d better give him some time before I approach him with an apology.”
“Well, you can’t avoid each other forever. Besides, you’ll probably see him at Sehun’s party on Thursday. Frat boys can’t resist free booze!”
Kyungsoo just gave a lighthearted laugh. “Oh, and you don’t go for the alcohol? Are you above all that now?”
“Excuse me?” Yixing acted offended. “ I go for entertainment purposes. Besides, hot guys plus alcohol might result in someone getting lucky,” he finished with a wink.
Kyungsoo threw a second notebook. This time he managed to hit Yixing’s face.
Kyungsoo had to admit he wasn’t too thrilled to go to Sehun’s . It was ridiculous how nervous and tense he felt at just the mere thought of having to run into Jongin again. He felt like a silly teenager, looking forward to seeing his crush at the school dance.
He got there around 11:30 p.m. He figured by that time most people would be somewhat intoxicated, and if he was lucky no one would notice his presence. He scanned the room hoping to see Yixing around, but to no avail. No doubt Yixing was probably off somewhere, not wasting any time.
A group of people cheering and laughing could be heard from the room next door, most likely enjoying some kind of drunken game. At least there weren’t any signs of Jongin either.
“Kyungsoo!!” a beautiful girl with long flowy hair approached him and gave him a hug. “I’m so happy you came tonight. I feel like I haven’t seen you that much this semester!”
“Hi Krystal,” Kyungsoo said as he returned the hug. “Well, you have been busy with your dance competitions.”
Krystal just waved her hand in annoyance “Ugh! Don’t even remind me. We could have done so much better if it wasn’t for three of the girls deciding it was a good idea to go have dinner at some questionable place.” She casually leaned in as she whispered. “It was like a real life scene from Bridesmaids.”
Kyungsoo just wrinkled his nose at the thought of it. “Yikes! Well, I hope next year is better.”
“It better be! It’ll be my last year on the dance team, and I’m not letting any burritos stand in my way.” She seemed to have spotted someone from across the room as she yelled, “Hey babe! Don’t be antisocial now and come here!”
In an instant Kyungsoo’s heart dropped. He knew exactly who was coming up to them and he wasn’t sure if he was ready to face him just yet. Why was he so nervous? They had been friends since they were twelve; it wasn’t as if that would change.
Jongin joined them with a lazy strut. Krystal circled her hand around his waist and looked up at him. “I was just telling Kyungsoo about my dance woes.”
“Were you now? Just don’t bore him too much with it.” Jongin’s face didn’t show any sign of discomfort. Maybe he had decided to forget about the incident.
Krystal playfully hit him in the arm. “Okay, fine, I’ll take my boring talk somewhere else!” She unlinked herself from Jongin’s body, and went to join some friends.
Kyungsoo nervously shifted his weight between his two feet. “Listen…about the other night…”
“What about it?” Jongin casually asked with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I think we should talk... obviously not here! But I still want to-” Kyungsoo spewed out, but was cut off by Jongin.
“There is nothing to talk about.” And as he firmly patted him on the back he added, “Come, the guys and I needed one more person to play darts with. Chanyeol and Joomyun are one team; Minseok and Jongdae the other. “
And just like that the issue was dropped.
By the time Kyungsoo reached his nearby studio apartment it was 4 a.m. He wasn’t as drunk as other times, but he knew he would probably have a bit of a headache the next morning. He lay on his bed and replayed what had happened that night.
Jongin hadn’t acted out of the ordinary. He treated him just as always. In a way he was glad they were able to move past this. But on the other hand, Kyungsoo couldn’t help but feel hurt and disappointed. He wasn’t expecting his friend to welcome his confession with open arms, but it would have been nice to have his feelings acknowledged instead of having them swept under the rug. In any case he would rather keep his friendship with Jongin than experience a drift between them. With one last look at the clock he closed his eyes and drifted to sleep.
At one point he heard a distant noise that sounded very much like knocking. He tried to ignore it, thinking it was just an extension of his dreams, but as the noise became louder and louder it was impossible to disregard any longer. He opened his eyes and looked at the clock. It was almost 5 a.m.
“What the fuck?” Kyungsoo muttered to himself as he got out of bed. “I’m coming! Hold on!” He yelled as the knocking became louder.
“Kyungsoo! Open up!” A voice came from the other side of the door. He immediately recognized it as Jongin’s. What the hell was he doing at this hour?
“What the hell are you doing?” Kyungsoo demanded as he opened the door. “You are going to get me evicted from here!”
“Shhhhhh, no need to be angry with me,” Jongin slurred his words as he entered the apartment.
“I just wanted to talk to you”
“About what? Jongin, it’s 5 a.m. I’m sure whatever the fuck you need to tell me can wait until later.”
“But even you said we needed to talk! Are you backing off now?”
“I thought you said we would forget about that.”
Jongin just sat down on the nearest chair and gave him a smug look. “Well I want to talk about it now.”
Kyungsoo didn’t really like where this was going. He knew Jongin was drunk and that somewhat excused his behavior, but he also didn’t want to open up about his feelings again only to be met with mockery and disdain. He would much rather talk to him when both were a 100% sober.
“What’s the matter now?” Jongin pressed, “Are you going to back down from what you told me the other night?”
“I’m going back to bed. You are welcome to sleep on the couch.” Kyungsoo said as he turned around and headed to the small section where he bed laid.
Jongin didn’t back down. “How long have you liked me?” Kyungsoo froze on his tracks. He knew his friend wasn’t going to give up on this so he might as well answer him.
“For a long time.”
“How long?” Jongin repeated again.
Kyungsoo just sighed and turned around to face him. “I don’t know the exact length Jongin. I don’t keep track of things like this on my calendar. I suppose I started to develop a fancy for you back in high school and only came to terms with it in college.”
Jongin didn’t say anything. All of sudden he seemed to have develop an odd fascination for his fingernails.
“Why did you kiss me?” he asked, still examining his nails.
“I don’t know why. I wasn’t planning on ever telling you. I didn’t want things to be weird between us,” Kyungsoo answered genuinely.
Jongin stopped looking at his nails and looked up at his friend. “Why would it be weird?”
Kyungsoo started pacing back and forth. “Because we are friends! I don’t know, people always say it’s weird when a friend confesses and you can’t return those feelings.”
“Did you enjoy it?” Jongin asked as he got up from the chair.
“The kiss. Did you enjoy it?” Jongin repeated the question as he started to walk towards the other boy
Was this really happening right now? All Kyungsoo wanted to do was crawl into his bed and be left alone. “Why are you playing with me?” he asked in irritation.
Jongin got closer to his friend. “I’m not playing with anyone. Just answer the question.”
Kyungsoo looked down with a defeated look. “What do you think? Of course I did, but...”
All of sudden he was cut off by a pair of lips pressing against his. Kyungsoo was now certain this whole thing was part of a drunken dream, and he was sure he would wake up at any moment. He wasn’t complaining though, compared to the first kiss they shared, this one was more intimate and more gentle.
It started out slow and somewhat awkward; they both hesitantly explored the other. But it didn’t take long before they became more confident and started escalating in intensity. Kyungsoo put his hands on Jongin’s hips as he pressed himself into them.
And just as it had suddenly started, he felt Jongin pull back from it. Raw passion evident on his eyes.
“I better go,” he managed to say in almost a whisper.
He should have stopped him. He should have told him it was too late for him to walk back to his apartment; that he could spend the night over and talk about it in the morning. But no words were coming out of his throat. He stood there frozen as he watched the other boy leave, unable to do anything.
Kyungsoo pinched himself to make sure it hadn’t been a dream. The pain he got back told him it hadn’t.
And so a game of push and pull started to develop between Kyungsoo and Jongin. On the surface nothing had changed between the two; they would still hang out with their mutual friends or have the same discussions they always did, with just the occasional glances and knowing smiles. Whenever it was just the two of them in the privacy of their apartments, an innocent conversation would escalate into a heated make out session. They were getting bolder and bolder each time, and it would only be a matter of time before they ended up going all the way.
And then after those times were over, Jongin would go back to acting as if nothing had happened between them. The only occasions in which he would completely ignore his friend were those in which Krystal was present. At first Kyungsoo was mildly annoyed, but as the cycle kept repeating more and more, he grew intensely jealous of Krystal and wondered why he put himself in that situation. But any trace of anger would vanish the moment Jongin seeked him out again, only to be left out in the cold in the end.
There were just a little more than two weeks left before summer break. Kyungsoo was glad he had done well early on in the semester, because with his current state of mind the last thing he wanted to do was focus on boring lectures. Finals would be a challenge.
“My, my,” Yixing said as he opened the door of his apartment to let Kyungsoo in. “You look like shit.”
“Thanks for the morale booster.” He had decided to visit Yixing’s for a little unwinding, though with that greeting he started questioning his decision.
“Oh stop acting like you have a stick up your ass,” Yixing snapped back as he grabbed a beer for his friend. “You know very well it’s your fault you’re like this. You’re letting him play you like a fiddle.”
Kyungsoo didn’t answer back. Yixing was right, he was letting Jongin walk all over him and use him for his convenience.
“So why are you upset this time?” Yixing inquired. “Where is your golden boy?”
“He is out with his girlfriend. Out to see a movie,” he replied through clenched teeth.
“Ahhh.” Yixing threw the other boy a sorry look. “I think you should talk to him and see where you stand. You can’t keep going on with this vicious cycle of yours!”
Kyungsoo shifted uncomfortably on the couch. “Can we not talk about this? If I wanted a lecture I would have gone to class.”
“Suit yourself. But I still think you should talk things over with him. I hate seeing you like this,” Yixing simply said.
The rest of his visit was spent discussing summer plans; Yixing’s internship at his uncle’s firm, and Kyungsoo’s plan to visit some relatives in Canada for a week or two in July. All while Yixing’s ‘questionable taste in music’- as Kyungsoo liked to called it- played on shuffle from his friend’s laptop.
But I admit that I provided a full moon
And I could liken you to a shark the way you bit off my head
But then again I was waving around a bleeding an open wound….
He hadn’t really paid attention to any of previous songs, but at one point a sweet tremolo caught his attention. He had no idea who was the owner of that raspy voice, but he felt the lyrics were directed at him.
We’re like a wishing well and a bolt of electricity
But we can still support each other, all we gotta do is avoid each other
Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key….
He pretended he was paying attention to whatever the hell it was Yixing was ranting about. He inwardly froze on the couch as he processed the lyrics. It felt as if someone had just splashed cold water on his face.
But I’m a chemical, too, inevitable
You and me would mix
And I could liken you to a lot of things but I always come around…
He wasn’t one to believe in signs or coincidences, but something within him clicked the moment he heard that song. Maybe he should take Yixing’s advice and talk to Jongin. He could no longer pretend everything was okay. He could no longer allow Jongin to do as he pleased.
We are like a wishing well and a bolt of electricity…
A few days after his visit to Yixing’s, Kyungsoo decided it was time to confront the situation. Jongin hadn’t sought him during that time, instead he had acted like nothing had happened between them. He didn’t think the rest of his friends had noticed there was anything unusual between the two. Jongin had made sure to keep up a straight face whenever others were around, acting like his usual outgoing self. Kyungsoo on the other hand looked irritable and worn out, but everyone just assumed it was an end of the semester type of mood.
He went to Jongin’s apartment uncertain of what would happen next.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were going to drop by,” Jongin said as he opened his door. Looking at his wrist watch he added, “I told Sehun and Kris I would play ball with them at-”
“I won’t take long, don’t worry,” Kyungsoo cut him off.
Jongin looked a little distressed, almost like a cat cornered against the wall. “That..that’s fine. What’s up with you? I feel like I haven’t seen you in days.”
Kyungsoo just threw his friend a bewildered look, was he really choosing to ignore the situation to the point he would act like nothing happened? Even when there wasn’t anyone else to put a front to?
“You saw me on Tuesday though, but I guess you were too busy horsing around with Sehun to ask me how I was doing,” Kyungsoo’s words sounded cold and sharp. “But anyways, I’m not interested in trivial matters. I want to talk to you.”
Jongin threw his friend a smirk “Well we are talking, aren’t we?”
“Don’t be a dick Jongin!” Kyungsoo spat. “You know very well what I’m talking about”
Silence fell between the two of them. Jongin got up from his seat and went to take a look out the window. Apparently whatever was happening outside of his apartment was oddly fascinating and he couldn’t stop staring at it.
“And what exactly do you want me to say?” Jongin asked him with a sad look. “You know very well this was a mistake.”
Kyungsoo couldn’t say he didn’t see this coming. But it didn’t make it any less painful to hear. “A mistake…”
“I do like you a lot, and you’ve made me... confused. But I cannot do this to my parents; I’m the only boy in the family! Can you imagine how would they react?”
“What about what you want? Isn’t that something to consider?”
“It is…but I could never disappoint them like that.”
Kyunsoo just looked at the other boy with pure disbelief, rage rapidly clouding his senses. “Are you implying I’m a disappointment to my own family?!”
“No! Not at all. It’s just that you’re so sure of what you want, while I’m still struggling to accept this side of me. I just don’t want to risk what I have in order to pursue something I’m just curious about.”
“So you were just ‘curious’ then….”
“I..I’m sorry Kyungsoo, I never meant to upset you like this.”
“Funny how we always end up doing what we don’t mean to…” Kyunsoo’s voice was filled with sarcasm and bitterness.
Jongin started pacing back and forth, frustration showing on his face. “Please try to understand me! All my life I’ve only thought about girls. Sure, there have been a few times when I’ve been physically attracted to certain guys.” Kyungoo just rolled his eyes and chuckled at this statement. “But no one has ever made me want to pursue those feelings as much as you have.” And before he could be interrupted he continued.
“After you kissed me that first night, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I was confused! I was angry at you for pulling something like that, I was angry at myself for liking it as much as I did and for wanting to try it again. I didn’t want to upset Krystal…and I didn’t want to upset you since you’re my friend.”
Kyungsoo just gave his friend a bewildered look. “Yet you decided it was okay to search for me whenever it was convenient for you.”
“I wasn’t thinking straight okay! I was letting my raw passion guide my steps instead of letting reason decide what would be the right thing to do!” Jongin just spat back. “I care about Krystal very much and I don’t think it’s fair to toss her aside just so I can explore how I truly feel about guys. It’s also not worth having to upset my parents over this, “ Jongin finished with a defeated look.
Kyungsoo didn’t know what to say. It occurred to him how small and defenseless his friend suddenly looked. For the first time in years, he saw that same scared and confused twelve year old boy he had decided to befriend. The same boy who had put on a tough front by making everyone believe he was okay; but who in reality was just lost and didn’t know where to turn. He realized now that that lost little boy had never left, he had only simply gone into hibernation and was now back in full force.
While he was still angry at Jongin for making him feel cheap and used, he also felt sorry for him. This whole ordeal had messed with his feelings and had most likely damaged their friendship; but at least he had the peace of mind he knew Jongin didn’t have. He suspected the other boy was probably going through a personal hell, and that was something he wasn’t envious of.
Had it been easy for him to come to terms with his own sexuality? Not at all. For years he had lived in fear, not knowing if his conservative family would accept him. Things were still a work in progress, and he knew the day he introduced his parents to his significant other would be one of the most nerve wracking days of his life, but at least he had the freedom to be who he really was. He wasn’t kidding himself though, he knew everyone was different and everyone came to terms with it on their own accord. He just couldn’t help to feel slightly disappointed Jongin had decided not to go ahead and trust his feelings.
For the longest time neither of them said anything, they simply sat there staring into space. They were very much aware of each other’s presence, but carefully avoided each other’s eyes. The room was saturated with unspoken tension.
“Well then,” Kyungsoo finally uttered, “I better get going. I need to finish packing, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to review for tomorrow’s final.” He gave Jongin a half hearted smile. It felt odd to be making small talk when all he wanted to do was leave and never look back.
“Oh..yeah I haven’t even started packing,” Jongin chuckled. “You know how I always leave everything until the last minute.” Kyungsoo just nodded. “Krystal will probably come by later and start nagging me about it.”
“Maybe if you’re lucky, she’ll do all the packing for you.” They both laughed a shallow and forced laugh.
Then they fell back into total silence. Their friendship had suffered a terrible rift and neither was sure if things could ever go back to the way they were. Maybe for their own sake it was best to just go their separate ways.
After a few minutes Kyungsoo just grabbed his belongings, gave one finally look at Jongin and left. “Good luck on your final!” he heard Jongin yell as he closed the door. A heavy feeling was creeping up inside his chest, making it harder to breath. Yixing was right, he needed to break away from the vicious cycle.
Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key
Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key…
He didn’t see Jongin the rest of the week, which was probably a good thing as he still had three finals to focus on. On the last day of the semester, Yixing swung by to help him clean his studio.
“I must say, you look a lot less miserable!” Yixing said as they were loading the last couple of boxes onto Kyungsoo’s truck. “I assumed you would have been a moping mess,” he finished with a mocking smile.
“Glad I didn’t meet your expectations,” Kyungsoo replied as he closed the trunk. “I’m still bitter and pissed, but I suppose I have some ‘closure’ now,“ he replied sarcastically. “Whatever the hell that means.”
“You still like him though,” Yixing stated as he gave him a grave look.
“Of fucking course I still do Yixing!” Exasperation causing him to raise his voice. “I have liked him for a long time. Not to mention he is, or was, one of my closest friends. It will take a while before I can get over him, but I can’t put my own life on hold just because I got rejected.” He walked around the truck and got inside the driver’s seat.
Yixing closed the door for him and leaned on the window. “Right…well at least you seem eager to move forward, which makes me happy,” he gave him a sincere smile. “Just drive carefully and text me to let me know you arrived safely, okay?”
Kyungsoo laughed for the first time in days. “Yes mom! It’s only an hour drive though. I think I’ll make it.”
Yixing looked a little embarrassed for worrying so much. “I’ll try to visit you if the internship allows me to.” He stepped away from the car to let his friend drive away.
“You better keep your promise. There are a couple of summer concerts I want to go to.” He said as he started the car. “See ya later.”
As Kyungsoo started to drive away, he thought of the freedom he would have for the next three months. He certainly hoped his senior year would be less chaotic and emotionally draining. He took a look at his rearview mirror and saw Yixing standing on the same spot he left him, with his hands inside his pockets. He smiled as he focused his eyes on the road ahead. Somehow, he had a feeling next year would be better.