New Chapters - Chapter Three
Changmin works in a bookstore, where a stranger walks in one day.
All things considered, Changmin was remarkably calm throughout the chain of events that occurred thereafter.
Not allowing himself to panic, he had quickly assessed Mr. Park based on the principles he had learnt during a first aid course, and found that the elderly shopowner was still breathing and had a pulse, just that he was unconscious, with a large bruise forming on his forehead.
He had then called the ambulance, and while waiting for it to arrive, speed-dialled Jaejoong - hearing muffled giggles and moans in the background, which he didn't have the time or effort to be wondering about - and related the situation to him, asking him to contact Yoochun before hanging up on the other's stunned silence.
Now, sitting in the waiting room of the emergency department, half an hour after arriving, with no idea what was happening to Mr. Park, fear and uncertainty finally overtook Changmin's voice of reason. Guilt gnawed at him - could this have been prevented if only he had not gone out for dinner?
"Changmin!" His head turned to the familiar voice and saw Jaejoong jogging towards him from the entrance, Yoochun walking behind. The latter had his heavy-duty facemask on, obscuring most of his features, and though he walked casually, anxiety was evident in his eyes and the tension in his shoulders.
"How is he?" the cafe-owner asked, looking like a million bucks even in the middle of the night, in the bustling near-chaos of the emergency department.
"He's still inside, the doctors say they need to do a head scan. But he regained consciousness on his way here, and he could recognise me, thankfully."
"That's a relief. Hope it's nothing too serious."
"I hope so too." Changmin wrapped his arms around himself to calm his trembling. "I have no idea how long he'd been lying there when I got back. I hope he's okay," he continued worriedly.
"You shouldn't have left him alone. This wouldn't have happened if you were there in the store," Yoochun muttered quietly, eyes dark and fathomless.
Changmin's surprise and guilt soon turned into a quiet indignant rage. "I'm a bit confused, who's the one named Park here?"
"Stop acting like you know everything, you little-" Yoochun hissed darkly.
"Okay, okay, chill, alright?" Jaejoong put a hand on Changmin's shoulder that he shrugged off, then led Yoochun a short distance away, the muted conversation between them drowned out by an ambulance pulling into the hospital, siren blaring.
"Don't take what he said to heart. You know he's even more worried than either of us. He just doesn't know how to express it." Jaejoong slid into the chair beside Changmin's. Yoochun was sitting a distance down the row of seats, a brooding stare directed at the floor, hands clasped around the back of his neck.
Changmin bit back a caustic remark. He did not know Yoochun all that well, but his bile rose every time he thought of Mr. Park living alone all these years, missing his wife and child and having only his books to keep him company.
A doctor emerged from a set of sliding doors and walked toward them. "Are any of you the family of Mr. Park Jin-soon?" he asked.
"Me, I'm the son," Yoochun rushed forward, "How's my father? Is he okay?"
Jaejoong placed a hand of restraint on Changmin's arm, stopping him from rushing forward. The two of them stood several steps back, listening to what the doctor had to say.
Mr. Park, as the doctor explained with a sprinkling of foreign-sounding medical terms, had suffered a mild stroke, one that caused him to have weakness over the left side of his body and difficulty in coordination. This was probably what caused him to fall and sustain the bruise over his head. The CT scan of his head did not show any bleeding in the brain, but he would need to be admitted for observation as he had suffered mild concussion. He would also need physiotherapy to help with his weakness, but the prognosis was good for his kind of stroke.
Changmin quietly sighed in relief, knees wobbly from the release of tension that had gripped him for the past hour.
"Can- Can I see him now, please?" Yoochun asked.
"Of course, he will be transferred to the observation ward shortly to await a bed in the ward. Please wait here," the doctor replied, eyeing the younger Park's masked face a little warily before turning to return behind the sliding doors.
A few minutes later, a gurney carrying Mr. Park emerged from the sliding doors, and the three of them rushed up to it. Mr. Park was awake but lay with eyes closed, white wispy hair sticking out every which way above an ugly-looking bruise on his forehead.
"Dad?" Yoochun whispered, hand reaching out tentatively towards the elder Park. He pulled off his mask, drawing a faint gasp from Jaejoong who made to reach out to stop him, but decided not to.
Frail wrinkled eyelids fluttered open and rheumy eyes focused on a familiar face that had changed and yet stayed much the same over the last decade.
"Yoo- Yoochun? Chunnie?" A spindly arm reached out and knobbly arthritic fingers clasped Yoochun's. Changmin and Jaejoong watched, eyes wide, waiting for the rashes to appear.
"Yes, yes, Dad, I'm back. Are- are you feeling alright?" Yoochun leaned in close to his father, the tenderness of the moment bringing tears to Changmin's eyes. Moments passed and nothing happened - no rash, no sneezing, no wheezing. Jaejoong's mouth was agape with disbelief.
"I'm right as rain, boy. Wouldn't find nothing that could knock old man Park down. Not when my son's back." Mr. Park's voice quavered, and he lay back against the pillow, sighing.
Yoochun smiled around watery eyes, mumbling gruffly, "Yeah, old man, you better not be going anywhere, not when I've just got back."
"I'm sorry, but the patient needs rest, please allow us to transport him to the observation ward," the nurse pushing the gurney interjected gently, and continued towards her destination as the three of them nodded and stepped back.
"Changmin. Hey, listen," Yoochun stepped beside Changmin later in the night, when the older Mr. Park had been warded and fallen asleep. "I'm sorry for just now. It was unwarranted, pointing the finger at you like that."
"It's fine, I can imagine how upset you were." The younger man could tell it was not easy for Yoochun to come to terms with they way he felt about his father, but chose not to poke his nose into the Parks' business. "Just spend more time with Mr. Park, okay? He was so happy to see you."
"Yes, I will." The younger Park turned to look at his father's figure in the darkness of the ward, the mask once again obscuring his features.
"How- how was it your allergy didn't-" He could not resist asking.
"Honestly? I don't know, but it's great, isn't it? That I can be close to him without worrying, now." The relief and happiness in his voice was evident.
Jaejoong stepped back into the ward with two cups of coffee and a cup of tea for Changmin, and whispered, "It's almost morning, you guys want to go back?"
Yoochun shook his head. "No, I want to stay with the old man. You two go ahead. Thanks. Changmin-ah, thanks for everything. I really appreciate-"
"It's okay, I didn't do much," Changmin interrupted, not the most comfortable with being thanked profusely. "Take care of Mr. Park. I'll be back to see him tomorrow after classes."
Yoochun nodded mutely, and settled back down beside the bed as the other two left the ward silently.
Unbeknownst to Changmin, and forgotten amidst the events of the night, a namecard lay where it had fallen beneath a bookshelf in Park's Bookstore.
And in an apartment somewhere in downtown Seoul, a mobile phone lay in the loose grip of sleep-slackened fingers, its owner having waited half the night for a call that never came, and finally drifted into fitful slumber.
Jung Yunho sat in the pantry of Jung and Partners, nursing a half-full Starbucks paper cup of double espresso in his hands and a throbbing headache. He had been losing sleep for the past two days since the dinner with Changmin, and it was killing him.
Every time his phone so much as made a beep, he would reach for it immediately with the increasingly dim hope that it would be the young man from the bookstore, finally making good his promise to call.
No, he reminded himself. He never promised to call. You pushed the card into his hand and asked him to. Most normal people don't call strangers who walk into the bookstore they're working in and ask them out to dinner and then cross-examine them like a witness on the stand.
He groaned softly, lowering his head gently to the table. Sudden movements made him see bright spots. Something twisted inside his gut as he was assailed by recollections of the dinner where he had effectively wrung Changmin's life story out of him without revealing much about himself in return.
He must be so frightened off by my questioning that calling me is the last thing on his mind.
"You rock, Jung Yunho," he muttered, "No one can screw your happiness up better than you."
The truth was, he had no idea why he felt the way he did about Changmin.
He just knew that, after leaving the bookstore the first time, having found the book he had been looking so hard for, he was more excited about the young man he had just met than he was about the book.
it seemed as if a hook was embedded in him that kept tugging imperceptibly, drawing him back to the bookstore, to catch another glimpse of the stranger.
It had taken a considerable amount of courage for him to ask - well, drag - Changmin to dinner, but it had also been worth the gamble.
There was something about the younger man's blunt honesty that spoke to him. He said things as they were, without weighing his words, or calculating his response against what he thought Yunho was trying to get out of him, as so many other people did. People who saw him only as a lawyer, and instinctively watched what they said in his presence.
Rationally, that was one of the main reasons he could think of to explain why he liked Changmin. But this went beyond reason. Here he was, losing sleep, jumping at phone calls, even moping around at work, over someone he barely knew. This was not like him at all.
Yunho had, after all, perfected the ability to separate his emotions from the keen reasoning and analytical processes he used in approaching his legal cases. His personal opinions, judgement and feelings were not allowed to bias the way he argued a case, though he knew that emotional arguments had their own uses in the appropriate circumstances.
Similarly, his personal life was clinically dissected and kept apart from his work, especially in the past year when the spotlight on him had grown, and he had to fight an increasingly difficult war with the press who sought to land an exclusive scoop on this fiercely private legal genius.
When even going to the supermarket was a challenge, falling in love was definitely out of the question. Not that Yunho had much of a social life, let alone love life. His experience in high school had pretty much put a lid on his desire for lifelong companionship, and it had stayed that way until now.
Jung Yunho was the only son of a prominent family in the high society of Seoul, his father Jung Il-Jae - the founder of Jung and Partners - a famous divorce lawyer, having handled many a divorce settlement involving the hideously rich and gained quite a reputation as the person to go to for such cases. And as if his sterling pedigree was insufficient, Yunho was blessed with boyish good looks and a tall athletic build that meant he had no lack of women throwing themselves at him even as a teenager, or mothers who wanted their daughters to marry him.
Predictably, with his background, his mother had arranged for him to meet with Lee Soo Jin, the eldest daughter of the prominent Lee family, at the tender age of 17, hoping to link the Jung family with the Lees. Soo Jin’s father was an influential member of the National Assembly, tipped to be the next Law Minister, and the union of the two families would no doubt be a boon to the elder Jung’s legal business.
Yunho and Soo Jin were well-matched, to all appearances. She was the chairperson of the debating club, and he the vice-chair; they were of similar age, background, and social status; she was assertive and passionate, the perfect foil to Yunho’s laid-back car.
The problem was the lack of any feeling between the two.
Yunho had become clearly aware that women were definitely not his cup of tea, but was willing to go along with societal demands for the sake of his family. And god knew what Soo Jin thought, because he could never tell, but she went through the motions, as did he, of going out on dates and doing things together at school, in a clinically efficient manner not unlike a robot.
Things were going splendidly, and the two families were most pleased with the golden couple who had become the envy of many others among the high-and-mighty.
If only it had lasted.
The end began one very ordinary night, the two of them having gone out for dinner, a bland affair as always. The only difference was alcohol – some white wine Yunho had ordered on a whim. It turned out Soo Jin could hold as much alcohol as a thimble, and she was in a pretty bad state after dinner, giggling uncontrollably in the car as he drove her back to her place.
It would be an understatement to say he was unprepared for what happened after he stopped the car in front of the gate to the Lee estate. Soo Jin drunkenly threw herself on top of him and started kissing him passionately, completely disinhibited.
Yunho was too stunned to fend her off initially, but when she started pushing her tongue into his mouth it was too much for him to handle, and he struggled to get her back into her seat. With a growing sense of panic he realised that she wore cherry-flavoured lipstick, and it was now all over his lips, and entering his mouth.
Yunho had a thing about cherries. He hated them. His mother explained that he had almost drowned in a bathtub filled with cherry-scented bubble bath as a toddler, and could not tolerate the smell or taste of cherries ever since. Just seeing the picture of a cherry was enough to make him feel sick. If there was one thing all of his friends knew about him, it was this: No Cherries.
It was something he had neglected to tell Soo Jin, in all the months they had spent “together”.
Having Soo Jin's cherry-flavoured lips over his and her tongue probing his mouth - it felt like he was being violated by a giant cherry with a tongue. Within seconds he felt the contents of his dinner rumbling up into his throat, but not before he had clamped his jaw hard on her tongue in mindless panic.
Needless to say, it was a disaster. Having her tongue nearly bitten off was enough to snap Soo Jin out of her inebriated stupor, let alone being covered head-to-toe in grotty half-digested steak. That Yunho spent the next hour curled in the grass off the pavement dry heaving in futile attempts to get the cherry taste out of his mouth did not gain him any sympathy points.
The fallout from the night was apocalyptic. Soo Jin’s father sent a strongly worded letter to the Jungs, and withdrew all links from their family. Rumours spread like wildfire and grew more far-fetched with each retelling. In one version Yunho was a crazed monster who got off on cannibalism, and had tried to chew Soo Jin’s tongue off as part of a bizarre ritual.
It was impossible to continue at the same high school. All the students shunned him. Even his closest friends looked at him with horror and disgust when he approached them, ignoring his pleas to be heard, for him to explain himself. He was abandoned, alone.
Worse than being at school was staying at home. The elder Jung had not spoken a word to him since the incident, and looked at him with nothing but disappointment in his eyes, as if gazing upon a failed work of art. His mother could only lock herself in the bathroom and cry. Being thrashed to death would seem a better fate than this hell he found himself in.
The prominent families had flocked to the Lees in their tragedy – it was rumoured that Soo Jin could not speak without a lisp, and had become mentally deranged from the loss of her oratory prowess – hoping to gain some benefit from this sudden shift in the balance of power.
The truth was inconsequential; no one cared about Soo Jin's condition (because really, she had looked just peachy spitting vulgarities and blood-stained spittle at him as he lay retching outside her house that day), only that they could milk this for their own gain.
The Jungs were cast out, as abandoned in society as Yunho was at school.
His father had then quietly arranged for him to leave the country and enroll in a law school in London, his grades more than enough to qualify him for entry. And he had left in shame, broken and too keenly aware of the mercurial favour of the fates.
Yunho threw his all into his studies, trying to forget the events that had forced him abroad. He kept to himself, and made few friends, letting none into his personal world. His friends’ betrayal in his time of need had hit him hard, and he had lost his trust in unconditional friendship and love.
Four years later, having graduated with first class honours in record time, he returned reluctantly to Korea. His father was in ill health, having worked hard to regain his position among the high-and-mighty, and needed the younger Jung to help him manage Jung and Partners.
The social elite had largely forgotten the furore that surrounded Yunho's departure, partly owing to the Lees' emigration to the States shortly after the incident.
And so Yunho started work in his father’s firm, soon gaining an impossible momentum, winning case after case with all his energies devoted to his work. Everyone knew Jung Yunho, the genius lawyer. But no one knew him.
No friends meant no disappointment, no betrayal. Love was definitely out of the question.
But that was before he met Changmin.
"Hyung? Hyung, are you alright?" His thoughts were broken by a concerned voice at his ear and a gentle tap on his shoulder. He lifted his head slowly to stare with bleary eyes at Junsu, the law clerk who was attached to him.
"Oh my goodness, hyung," Junsu gasped, "You look terrible! What happened? You look worse than I did the time I spent 3 consecutive days playing Final Fantasy 10 non-stop and ended up sleeping through my first year exam. Ooh that was nasty business, almost got me kicked out of law school. Do you need some medication? I mean, not like I have any, but I can ask around for you..."
Yunho appreciated Junsu's concern, he just wished the guy would stop moving so much as he talked. It was making him dizzy, and he had to close his eyes. "It's okay, Junsu, don't worry. I just... haven't been sleeping well."
"Not sleeping well? Why? Is it over the Kim-Hwang case? But I thought that's pretty straightforward, and I've done all the necessary paperwork-"
Yunho interrupted him with a weak wave of his hand, "No, no it's not that case. It's nothing, you really don't have to worry about me."
Junsu finally settled down on the chair next to him, and looking very earnestly, asked in a muted tone, "Is it the chap from the bookstore?"
Yunho looked at him calmly, hiding his surprise at the junior's words. "What makes you say that?"
"Ah- sorry, hyung, maybe I shouldn't have said that, it was too presumptuous of me.."
"No, please, tell me."
Junsu gulped. Yunho could be a bit scary when he was this intense; few people were immune to it, especially on the witness stand. "I just- The way you looked, the time you were in the bookstore, and after the guy came looking for you... There's something in your eyes that's different. It's like... like you found something you didn't know you were looking for. Haha, that doesn't make any sense!"
"No, it makes complete sense," Yunho whispered, his headache dissipating with Junsu's words. Despite talking too much most of the time, the law clerk always surprised him with these occasional gems of wisdom that belied his youth. "And I still wouldn't know it, if you hadn't told me. Thank you, Junsu."
Junsu looked startled and burst into embarrassed laughter, the pantry filled with eukyangkyangs. "Huh? You lost me there, hyung."
Yunho patted Junsu on the back and smiled as he stood up and straightened his suit. He had somewhere he needed to go.
Yunho stood dejectedly at the locked door of Park's Bookstore, trying it for the fifth time, hoping rather stupidly that he would find it suddenly unlocked. The window casements were set too high for him to peer through, but they were dark, which probably meant that no one was in.
He considered waiting for Changmin to return to the store, but decided that standing here on the pavement out in the cold was not the wisest of moves. Looking around, he spied a small cafe two stores down, and decided he would probably wait there for a bit.
"Hello, welcome to Eiskaffee!" a familiar voice called as he pushed open the door to a gentle tinkle of bells. The blonde-haired figure behind the counter turned from the coffee machine and paused in a brief moment of recognition. "Oh, it's you!"
"Good afternoon. Jaejoong-sshi, right?" He smiled, remembering the name from the second time he had visited Park's Bookstore. "I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself the last time. I'm Jung Yunho."
"Jung- Yunho?" The cafe-owner's eyes widened in response to the name, but he wisely chose not to make a big issue of it. "Are you- Might you be looking for Changmin?"
A little embarrassed at having the other man hit the nail on the head so quickly, he rubbed the back of his neck, chuckling, "Yes, in fact, I am, but the store is locked.. Is Changmin out?" Of course he's out, you dolt, where else can he be?
"Yeah, in fact he just left for the hospital," Jaejoong explained, fastidiously cleaning the counter with a rag.
"Hospital..?" Yunho looked at the older man suspiciously, recalling the little joke he had played the last time round.
"I'm not joking this time!" Jaejoong explained hastily, a serious expression on his face, "He's gone to visit Mr. Park. You know, the old guy who owns the bookstore. Poor geezer had a stroke two days back."
"Oh. That's terrible. Which hospital is he in? I should go visit him." He pulled out a post-it pad to jot down the hospital and bed number.
"Hey, you know what, if you want to catch Changmin, he just left not more than fifteen minutes ago," Jaejoong remarked after writing the details down for him, "He's taking the bus around the corner from here. You may just catch him, knowing how long it takes the bus to come around."
Yunho took a quick look at his watch, but his decision was already made. "Right, thanks for letting me know. See you!" He was out the door and sprinting down the street before Jaejoong could reply.
Whistling, Jaejoong returned to wiping the counter, a knowing smile on his lips. You owe me one, Shim Changmin.
Turning the corner at a full-speed run, his wingtips clacking on the pavement, Yunho saw the bus rumble into the bus stop a hundred metres in front of him, and Changmin's unmistakeably tall figure waiting to board. Even at this distance, just seeing him was enough to make Yunho's chest tighten with longing.
He barely managed to catch the bus, sticking his briefcase between the doors just before they swung shut. Catching his breath - despite his athletic background, it had been a while since he had run so hard - he hopped atop the bus, and spotted Changmin sitting near the back, an empty place beside him. The younger man had not seen him, and was rearranging a large number of plastic bags on his lap.
Smiling to himself, he effortlessly swung himself into the seat beside Changmin. "Heya," he said a little breathlessly.
Changmin stared at him for a full two seconds before jumping upright, nearly dropping all the bags he was holding. "Y- Yunho!" he stammered a tad too loudly, attracting the attention of the other passengers.
Trying not to laugh at the sight of Changmin rapidly turning crimson from the stares directed at him, Yunho slipped his hand into the crook of the younger man's elbow and gently tugged him back into the seat, whispering, "Relax, you look like you just saw a ghost."
"You- you scared me!" Changmin was still visibly flustered and his hands fiddled nervously with the bags in his lap. "Wh- what are you doing here? On a bus? Don't you drive? And- don't you have to be at work?!"
Yunho had to admit he found Changmin's agitation disturbingly cute, and he fought the urge to take those hands into his own to quell their needless worrying. "I- uh-" I really missed you, and I wanted to see you again, he wanted to say. "I was passing by, and talked to Jaejoong. He said you were going to the hospital to see Mr. Park, so.. here I am?" he managed instead with a sheepish grin, as if that explained everything.
"You- huh?" Changmin struggled to fill the gaps in logic in those two sentences, and eventually decided not to pursue the matter further. He finally settled into a semblance of calm. "Well, uh, here you are," he parroted with a small smile on his face. "I- I didn't think I'd see you again."
It was Yunho's turn to be surprised. "Er, why not? I did.. give you my number?" Which you never called, the question went unasked, as he cringed internally at how devastatingly unsubtle he was being.
"I.. lost the card." Changmin explained apologetically, "I searched everywhere, but I couldn't find it. There was so much going on that night, Mr. Park, he was lying on the floor when I opened the door, and I-"
This time, Yunho gave in and put a reassuring hand on the other's thigh, patting it. "It must have been really crazy. But I'm sure you did everything right, which is more than I can say for myself if I was in your place."
Smiling, he took Changmin's handphone and keyed in his number, saving it. "There, now you won't lose it, unless you have some penchant for losing your phone that I don't know about."
Changmin chuckled, a sound which made warmth blossom in his chest. "That's not an impossibility, all things considered." He took Yunho's phone and keyed his number into it as well. "But even if I do, unfortunately, lose my phone, you'd better not lose yours."
"Not if my life depended on it."
They shared a smile, and for all that they were surrounded by dozens of people in a rickety noisy old bus, in that moment each only shared his world with one other.
"Mr. Park! How are you?" Changmin called as he entered the old bookshop owner's room.
"As good as I'll ever be. No reason to keep a good man in a hospital, I say, but will anyone listen? No. No one listens to old man Park," he grumbled from where he was seated beside the window.
"You'll be discharged soon, you just need some more physiotherapy, okay? Anyway, isn't it good that you get to spend so much time with Yoochun here? You know he can't go into the bookstore once you're back there." Changmin explained patiently, smiling as he put his bags down on the table. "Look what I made you today, Mr. Park! Stewed pork, home-made kimchi, spinach, seaweed soup." He pulled a multitude of Tupperware containers out of his bags, and soon the room was filled with the warm aroma of home-cooked food. Mr. Park's frown faded a little as he started eating heartily, much to Changmin's satisfaction.
"Oh, Mr. Park, let me introduce my friend Jung Yunho. When he heard about what happened, he asked to come along to visit you."
"Hello, sir. I'm Jung Yunho. Nice to meet you."
"No sir. Park's the name. And there's nothing to see. Not dead yet."
"Mr. Park!" Changmin chided.
"All right, all right. Nice of 'ya to come by," the old man muttered grudgingly, squinting his eyes at Yunho. "Come closer, lad, my eyes don't work so well. Let old man Park take a good look at you."
Yunho shared a puzzled look with Changmin, who was equally confused by the strange request, and bent down to bring his face closer to Mr. Park's.
"Hmmm." Mr. Park scrutinised Yunho's bemused features closely for a whole minute as the tall lawyer maintained his stooped-over position good-naturedly. "Good, good," he finally nodded, "Very good. So how long have you been going out with our Changmin?"
"Mr. Park!" Changmin jumped upright, flushing crimson, "It's- it's not like that! He's- Yunho's just a friend!" He cast a look of abject embarrassment and apology at Yunho, who had an inscrutable smile on his face.
"Nothing to be ashamed about, kiddo. You treat our Changmin well, you hear?" He waved a crooked finger at the older man.
Changmin stiffened as Yunho slipped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. The lawyer's warmth felt like a cozy hearth through his clothes, a fire rivalled by his blazing face and ears.
"Of course, Mr. Park, you have nothing to worry. I'll take good care of Changmin-ah." Yunho beamed and patted the old man's hand reassuringly.
"Y- Yunho!" Changmin croaked, torn between pulling away and snuggling closer to the other man. He was starting to see bright spots in his vision from holding his breath.
"That's all I need to hear. Our Changmin's a good boy, he is." There was possibly a gleam of pride in those rheumy eyes, and Changmin's own eyes glimmered.
"Your dinner's getting cold, old man. You don't want to be wasting the effort that Changmin-ah put in to make it," a muffled voice came from behind them as Yoochun walked in, facial expression hidden behind sunglasses and mask.
"Yoochun!" Changmin slipped loose from Yunho's hold and turned to face the younger Park. "I- uh- This is Yunho, a friend of mine. Yunho, this is Yoochun, Mr. Park's son."
"Pleasure to meet you," Yunho smiled warmly, extending his hand.
"Nice to meet you. Sorry, I don't do handshakes. Allergies," Yoochun responded tersely, as if it explained everything. Yunho glanced at Changmin in bewilderment, withdrawing his hand, and the younger man returned with an apologetic look that said I'll explain later.
"Have you had dinner, Yoochun? I prepared some extra." Changmin offered. The atmosphere in the room had turned a little awkward.
"It's okay, thanks. I'm not hungry now. Maybe later." Yoochun's terse reply issued from behind the mask as he helped Mr. Park to mix small servings of meat and vegetables with the rice. "What about you two? Why don't you go get something to eat?"
Changmin looked at Yunho, who inclined his head agreeably. "Alright, we'll go grab some dinner. See you later, Mr. Park."
The old man nodded absently as both of them took their leave, his earlier words seemingly forgotten.
"I- I'm sorry about what Mr. Park said just now. I don't know what made him say that, I never-" Changmin blurted. They had decided on a small Western restaurant just around the corner from the hospital, the younger man insisting on buying dinner this time.
"There's nothing to apologise for," Yunho interjected firmly. "No offense taken. Mr. Park is quite a sweet old man, really. I can tell he's really concerned about you."
"Yeah, I've been working in the bookstore for nearly six years now. He's like a dotty grandfather to me." Changmin smiled warmly, head shaking, "I never quite know what he's thinking about. Sometimes I wonder if he's a little demented."
"Oh, I'm sure he's more lucid than you think. He just shows it in odd ways." As he ate, the lawyer quietly wondered how Mr. Park had noticed his feelings for Changmin. Or, he wondered, could it be the gruff old man saw instead Changmin's feelings for him? The thought that his feelings might actually be reciprocated made him smile.
"Penny for your thoughts," Changmin queried, seeing his cryptic smile.
"I was just thinking how you never got to ask anything about me the last time we had dinner. So tonight, it's your turn, ask me anything you want to know."
The younger man paused, just about to start on a plate of fish and chips after just effortlessly inhaling a hamburger. "Ask you- anything?"
"Yes, anything at all. Okay, I'll get things started." He went on to give an account of his background as Changmin listened, fascinated. The younger man began interjecting with his own questions soon enough, just as eager as Yunho had been to find out about the other person.
"You... haven't mentioned a girlfriend," Changmin blurted as they were finishing their dessert, and lowered his eyes shyly from Yunho's gaze, "I mean- A guy as eligible as you are, I'm sure there are hordes of women interested in you." He paused for a moment as Yunho chewed his apple crumble thoughtfully, then hastily continued, "Sorry, take it as I never asked. That was inappropriate, asking about your private life."
"Well, I'd say you already know things about me that are even more private than this!" Yunho joked, amused at Changmin's discomfiture. "Well, to answer your question - because I want to answer it, not because I'm obliged to - I had a girlfriend in high school, but it didn't end well." He went on to relate his last disastrous date with Soo Jin, leaving out the terrible events that followed.
As much as he tried to keep the story light, as if he were simply recounting an unpleasant experience as compared to one that had turned his life upside down, he had to fight to keep his voice from trembling. Years on, his insides still felt raw with the retelling, but he decided he needed to stop hiding from it.
The younger man looked at him in disbelief at the end of the story. "You can't actually expect me to believe that."
"It's true. Believe it or not." Yunho fought back nausea and forced a smile.
"Yes, so remember, I don't kiss if you're wearing cherry-flavoured lipstick. I think that's very little to ask for, really." He looked at Changmin with such a deadpan expression the other could not help but laugh, a sound which softened his own pain somewhat.
"The poor girl. She must hate you for life! Imagine how much therapy you put her through."
"Yeah... I know." Yunho's expression was sombre and his gaze turned inwards. If only Changmin knew half of it.
"So... that's why you haven't gotten together with anyone until now?" Changmin ventured gently.
Yunho chewed on his lower lip absently, a bad habit from his childhood days. He wanted to let Changmin into his world, wanted to embrace the other man with no half-truths or untold secrets in the way, and the younger man made him feel like he could talk about anything without restraints. But his instinctive defence mechanisms were not easily overcome, he realised, no matter how much he wished to reach across the shields that he had built up around himself.
How could he tell Changmin that he could no longer trust anyone fully? That he could not bear to have his heart so cruelly broken another time?
"Well, I guess you could say that I haven't found the right person," he mused. It was not far from the truth.
He gazed at the features of the younger man, which he could never get tired of looking at, from any angle. Thick, black-rimmed glasses hid intelligent, thoughtful eyes under an unruly mop of dark brown hair, a long sharp nose leading downwards to full lips that begged to be kissed. His chest tightened with the thought of what he wanted to say, was going to say.
It took a moment for the words to sink in, Changmin's eyes widening and face turning red. He loved that about the other man as well: how he flushed so easily and was so awkwardly shy despite his bursts of disarming honesty.
Changmin's lips parted hesitantly as he started to say something. Yunho waited expectantly, wanting nothing more than to reach across the table and grasp the younger man's hands.
The tense moment was broken by the shrill ringing of his phone.
Yunho swallowed a few choice epithets as he dug the offending mobile out of his pocket, looking at the number display. "Sorry, it's work," he muttered to Changmin as he excused himself from the table, sorely tempted to fling the phone at the wall.
"JUNG YUNHO! WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU?" the voice over the phone shrieked.
"Jee-young." She was one of the partners of Jung and Partners, and his direct superior in the firm. "I wasn't feeling well, so I took a day off. I told Junsu."
"Well, you'd best be back here in the office within the next half hour, well or not well. I don't care if the press calls you the legal prodigy of the age, or the saviour of mankind. There's work to be done, and I will not have anyone slacking off!"
"Half an hour, Jung Yunho. I won't like having to explain to Mr. Jung why I fired his son, but I'll do it if I have to." There was no arguing with Jee-young when she was in this kind of mood.
"Yes, Jee-young," he sighed resignedly to the flat tones of a disconnected call.
"I'm sorry, Changmin, I really am. It's- I've to be back in the office now." He could not believe how bad the timing was. His bold confession had pretty much gone to waste.
"It's okay, Yunho. Your work is more important. I've got the bill, you'd better run," Changmin urged. The look of relief on his face was barely concealed.
"Okay, see you then. I'll call you."
"I'll be waiting." The other man smiled shyly, waving goodbye.
Phew, finally got that chapter out. It wasn't easy, is all I can say. Many many thanks to my "partner in crime" pavarian for all her help so far in beta-ing the initial products and encouraging me with her squees, as well as all her great suggestions. XD
Hope you all enjoy this chapter, we're probably more than halfway through the fic!
- New Chapters - Chapter Three