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Always You, Only You

Shorts by Suilan Lee







Published by Suilan Lee

Copyright © 2018, Suilan Lee

Cover art by Liang Woo







License Notes

Thank you for downloading this free e-book. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed for any commercial or non-commercial use without permission from the author. Quotes used in reviews are the exception. No alteration of content is allowed. If you enjoyed this book, then encourage your friends to download their own free copy. Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Warning: This eBook contains scenes with adult language, and explicit sex scenes between adult males. It is intended for mature audiences only. If you are offended by such content, please remove this eBook from your files.



###



I knew the first time we met,

You’d be kinda hard to forget…”



Love Starts

Thinking back now, that man’s effect on a dry heart that had never known love must have started at the beginning.

His deep voice…his dark gaze...Miki couldn’t stop the smile at the thought of that stupid list of chores stuck on the fridge. Goodness, even the man’s grouchy attitude must have had an effect on his poor untouched heart. He doubted he ever had a chance to escape this complete entanglement.

Sitting in an airport at six in the morning, after having not slept, he stared at his cell phone, hoping…

Thirty minutes passed, hope turning to ice. The announcement for his flight at last call, he wondered if this was his fate…their fate. Standing up, Miki picked up his book bag, his luggage already checked in, he clutched his passport and ticket tight. Helpless as he looked around the airport hoping for a glimpse of dark longish shaggy hair.

Calling for Mr. Hayashi Miki, flight JAL 654, please report to Gate…”

Miki closed his eyes. He couldn’t miss his flight. He gripped his passport tight, the hope he’d grown in the past few hours squashed.

Numb, he headed to his designated boarding gate on auto. He was leaving Seoul, yet every cell in his body told him to stay. In the span of eight months, this place had become home. A home he dared want, but as that man hadn’t come to the airport, it seemed his wants were simply hopes.

Reaching the boarding gates, Miki handed over his plane ticket, allowing the flight attendant to lead him to his seat. Once settled by the window, he wore his seatbelt and as the belt clicked into place, his gaze fell on the bracelet on his left wrist.

Three dark leather strips knitted and held together with a jade bead. He blinked back sudden tears and glanced out the window into the rising morning.

Time moved fast, one blink and it felt like yesterday he’d arrived in this same airport after turning his parents’ lives upside down.

Those days, he’d only wanted to live, to experience a colorful life, see what lay beyond the normal.

Little had he known eight months later he’d be here afraid, again...

~~~~~



Part 1 – The Rebellion that brought him to another world

The fear that boredom might really kill him prompted his decision to enroll into an exchange program during his third year of university. His parents called him crazy for doing something so adventurous when he should be concentrating on his studies.

His parents were good people. They sincerely cared for his well-being and wanted him to succeed and make something of himself. This was how he had chosen to do economics at Tokyo University in the first place. His father thought it a good faculty, a stable career, one he could rely on for generations. People used money, needed it in everything they did, worst-case scenario, Miki could work at a bank. A reasonable occupation, so, he dove into the faculty with blind dedication.

Through this dedication to please his parents and create a stable future, in his third year when his courses started getting serious, fear struck Miki one morning.

His four roommates were adventurous souls, doing strange faculties like art, nursing, one was a ballerina, and the last a chef. Compared to their creative lives, he felt dull and removed from life. His world black and white, so far removed from their colorful existence, that fear grew so deep, so forceful and hard, it drove him into a severe panic attack.

The panic attack passed, but what had brought it on did not disappear. The sense that he hadn’t yet started to live set him on a path to escape the inevitable future he was creating. And of course, that gave him the idea to leave the country.

His roommates helped him enroll into the Seoul National University Exchange Program.

Not to boast, but his grades were excellent. He was a child with parents who forever urged, threatened, forced and begged him to study hard. Listening to this form of parenting, his brain found the easiest way was to give in and do the studying.

He got very good at retaining information and by the end of Junior High School, he was the top student in the district. The studying and reading became part of him, leading to excellent grades, to the point of excelling in foreign languages like English, Korean and Chinese. Most of his classmates were amazed and at the same time annoyed with his overachiever status.

Thinking about it now, he probably should have ditched a few hours of reading to chase a football on the field, but that was like begging spilt water to return back to a tray.

Back to the exchange program, his entry into SNU was a breeze. His Korean judged good enough to sit through a class, he was accepted into the Seoul Business School (of course some sense remained). He still needed to graduate at the end of this insane detour. His acceptance completed, he was now set to take his first step into the first adventurous decision he had ever made.

His parents’ reaction to this rebellious idea?

Complete and utter panic.

They couldn’t understand why he would decide on an exchange so close to his last year in college. Why now when he was about to start the critical third year of college.

Was he going crazy?

His mother even suggested taking him to the hospital for a checkup. She was sure he was ill, he’d fallen in the laundry room a few months before helping her move the washing machine. Clearly, he hit his head too hard. His brain was lose and needed the expert opinion of a doctor to screw it back in place.

She would not watch her son make such a stupid mistake.

Hah! As though he was the only son in the house who needed a brain doctor.

Yes, one would think, with the amount of coddling that had gone into him, he was an only child. No, he wasn’t an only child. His family was made up of five strange souls. His father and mother, who raised their eldest daughter Mika, followed by a second-born son, Nobu, then him, Miki, the last born.

Mika was a free spirit. She wasn’t much for rules and had gone off and married her high school sweetheart, forever breaking their mother’s heart. Nobu lived at home. Their neighbors called him a troublemaker because he hated studying. To escape his parents’ demands to read in senior high school, Nobu staged a coup by burning his books in the front yard. Adding in his school uniform for good measure when his mother came to beg him to stop the madness. What a sensation that had been in their conservative neighborhood.

After that debacle, his parents turned their hopes and dreams to their last-born son.

Miki had no hope of escaping their constant worry. Imagine the weight of two people’s hopes, already sorely disappointed by two of their children. It was not easy to spit in their faces and do what he wanted. He was not strong enough to disappoint their hopes, so he listened, obeyed and learned, towed the line…until this exchange program.

His first rebellious act in his entire lifetime.

He, the third son of the Hayashi household, wanted to board a plane and fly out of his birth country. He would be going to another country that spoke an entirely different language, with different values, and he would be alone.

The sky was falling for his parents.

The argument lasted a month.

Frightening, as he needed their financial support to pay for the room he had found in Seoul.

Now, judging from the advice he got from his roommates, and the very well-informed people at the international programs office, finding an affordable apartment in Seoul was not easy.

Through his enterprising roommate, Hiroyuki the chef to-be, who seemed to have connections even on the planet Mars, Miki managed to find an apartment with three-bedrooms, shared with a fourth-year student going to SNU and his roommate. Not only had he hit the jackpot, this jackpot would be lost if he didn’t pay his deposit on time.

Of course in the face of the world war III in the Hayashi household, Miki wished he could pay for the apartment. But…he didn’t have the cash. The amount was too high for his savings, and he needed to consider his living expenses.

In their war to convince him not to go, his parents had taken to walking away when he started the topic of living in Seoul. Quite an experience especially for one who had always been the good son and received their undivided attention no matter his problem.

The pain of watching his father walk away from him, then his mother, Miki couldn’t quite define it right. It left him speechless.

When the deadline for paying his apartment was two days away, help came in the form of his big brother, Nobu.

His mother was making dinner in the kitchen. Nobu sat at the kitchen table counting money no one knew how he acquired. His big brother remained a very filial son. He always brought his contribution to the household expenses to his mother. Their mother had once confessed that she was terrified of asking where the money came from. She took the money, and always placed it in a savings account she created for his brother. Her love for her children so clear, even though his big brother’s free will terrified her.

Walking into this scene, determined to convince her to share that love with him, otherwise he was going to also find out what it felt like to burn books in the front yard, Miki was surprised when his brother spoke.

Kaa-chan, would you rather watch Miki-kun wear that expression all his life? If you do, he’ll probably turn out worse than me with his temperament. Or you let him go and maybe, he might come back and become the prime minister. He could do it, you know? Run for state office and win.”

Miki stared at his brother in shock.

Now, this might surprise people, but Nobu was this big brother person who lived in the room next to his, but led a mysterious life.

In high school, Miki had spent too much time reading and going to cram school to ever have time to hang with his older brother. Now, Miki was in university and had moved into an apartment closer to campus for convenience. Whenever he came back home to visit on weekends, his older brother was never home.

They met on days like this, when his brother was home giving money to their mother. For his brother to now speak for him, that was….it was…Miki couldn’t stop smiling.

His mother stared at Nobu too. Her shock apparent. She turned off the cooker she was using and looked at Miki.

Miki’s smile slipped, stunned by the unreadable expression on her face.

She wiped her hands on her apron and left the kitchen in quick strides.

Miki worried.

She hadn’t spoken much to him since his big announcement, but this…

Before a full-blown panic could start, his mother returned holding a small passbook. She handed it to him without a word and returned to the cooker.

Confused, Miki opened the little book and stood frozen in the middle of his parents’ kitchen. The little book was a bankbook. The account was under his name, and the amount on the balance available column was more than enough to help him survive in a foreign country, living a modest life of course, for at least six months. It would also help him pay for his apartment on time.

Tears filled his eyes, and he glanced up when a drop hit the pristine page. His mother was also crying. Her shoulders trembling as she stirred soup. Miki wanted to go hug her, but then Nobu shook his head, stopping him. Their mother needed time. This was not easy for her.

So, Miki gave her a low bow of respect, making his tears fall faster and to the floor. He would come back later when she was in a better mood, he decided. He straightened up, gave his big brother a bright smile, then ran out of the house, his grip on the bankbook tight.

His parents’ money made all other details possible. He bought a perfect suitcase, and of course made the payment to hold his rented room with his new roommates. Park Shin was the primary name on the lease. This was all handled through a lawyer, with no further input from Park Shin other than, ‘tell the new tenant he will have to do his own cooking.’

Not a problem, Miki thought.

Living at home, enduring heavy study sessions, he had sometimes ended up in the kitchen helping his mother when he was taking a break. She had taught him to cook, making sure he could at least fend for himself if she wasn’t home. He was her last born after all. The one she had dedicated all her time, love and effort on.

No wonder his decision to leave confused her.

On the day of his departure, Miki spent the afternoon at home. He cooked dinner for the family. It was a Saturday, and his father was off from his job working as an accountant for a popular supermarket chain. His mother was rechecking his luggage to make sure he was well-stocked down to proper underwear. Embarrassing, but living in this house, Miki had long gotten over his mother’s ability to examine his undergarments with a critical eye. There was simply no escaping her, other than to leave the country, and even then, she still got a hold of the luggage. Sigh.

His older brother watched television in the living room to pass the time. And to his eternal surprise, even his eldest sister, Mika, brought her husband and two kids home that day. She helped him in the kitchen. Once food was ready, they ate together at the table. The first family meal in a few months. Miki loved that his family laughed and talked with smiles, every time they met like this. Eating with his family was the one thing he cherished most and would miss.

When they finished, his sister helped him clear up, and then he went upstairs to shower and prepare for his flight. He had booked a late flight because it was cheaper. Plus, his new roommate’s lawyer had promised to pick him up at the airport and was only available at such odd hours of the night.

Caught between anxiety and excitement, Miki left his childhood bedroom, pulling an unusually large suitcase to the stairs. The large suitcase that was not his doing. He had purchased a reasonable-sized suitcase, but after his mother’s meddling, he had ended up with the family suitcase she treasured, which could fit a whole human being and two children. The weight alone made him wonder if she had included the cupboards as well.

His brother helped him take it down the stairs, otherwise he might have injured his back. Downstairs, the whole family gathered in the little corridor leading to the front door. Their expressions…well, he hadn’t counted on them being so somber.

“I’ll be back in April for a few days,” he said, hoping to ease his mother’s stricken look.

She looked like he was moving to Alaska, where he would endure having to build an igloo alone and survive an ice storm with only the suitcase she had packed. Needless to say, her tears were not going to stop with a few words. So, he tried for the hug he had hoped to give her when she handed him the bankbook of precious money. He was afraid to ask how she got the money, and glancing at his father who was suspiciously wiping his eyes, Miki decided he would never ask. It was enough they were letting him go.

His mother clung to him tight, then she rubbed his back and stepped back. She touched his jaw, her hands warm as they had always been. She reached up and pushed hair out of his eyes.

“Call, if you need help. I’ll find a way,” she said, meaning it.

Miki knew that she would find her way to Seoul, if he called with even a hint of discomfort. He promised himself to always sound cheerful when he called her.

His mother stepped back and his oldest sister stepped in. Her hug was tight and warm. She pressed a kiss on his forehead and he laughed when she told him not to be so good. His big brother was next. A tight, squeeze, and a hefty pat on his left shoulder. No words from this mysterious man who had spoken up for him.

A honk came from outside and his brother took his suitcase and dragged it out of the house. The taxi to the airport had arrived.

Miki turned to his father. Tears stung the back of his eyes when his father opened his arms. Miki stepped into his father’s embrace, once again feeling like the little boy the man had tutored patiently. Closing his eyes, he took in the scent of faint tobacco and mint.

“Wherever you go, make us proud. We’ll always support you.”

Hefty words from a father who had guided him to this point. Miki nodded and stepped out of his father’s embrace. Taking in a deep breath, he forced a smile for his mother as she moved to stand beside her husband. They were such a pair.

Miki kissed her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears. Stepping back, he closed his jacket before she could ask.

“I’m leaving now,” he said.

“Stay safe,” his father said, as his mother seemed unable to talk.

Giving them a nod, Miki turned and left his childhood home. The ride to the airport was uneventful, almost felt like he was simply taking a ride to school or to visit his grandparents in the next town. When the taxi stopped at the departures hall, Miki got out and dragged his suitcase out of the trunk; a feat that required the taxi driver to come out and help him. Thanking the taxi driver, Miki slung the book bag with his essentials over his back, his passport and ticket in his left hand. He dragged the suitcase into the airport with his right.

Check-in was fast, glad to give up the mammoth suitcase, security check was unreasonable, waiting to board his flight was exhilarating.

When the plane took off, climbing higher and higher, that he clutched the armrest tight, that was the moment Miki realized that he had successfully stepped out of his lifelong comfort zone.

He was going to a place he didn’t know, to people who didn’t know him. The possibilities were endless, and it took his breath away.

***



Part 2 – Hiroyuki’s Unexpected Gift…the Charming House and Hojun

Three hours later, Miki stood in the unfamiliar Gimpo International Airport, dragging his luggage behind him. His book bag worn backwards on his front. He stowed away his passport and concentrated on checking the white cards held up in the waiting crowd.

Worry almost started when he couldn’t find his name, then he saw a wrinkled paper come up written ‘Hayashi’. He smiled and walked to the hand holding the wrinkled paper. Passing an anxious woman who was holding a pristine white card in one hand, and a small boy’s hand with the other.

The owner of the hand holding the wrinkled paper was a young man who couldn’t be more than sixteen. Well-dressed in a white shirt, blue blazer, and pale blue slacks. His haircut framed his cute face, but his gaze wasn’t too friendly.

“I’m Hayashi,” Miki said, pointing to the wrinkled paper.

“Right on time,” the unfriendly gaze suddenly turned welcoming, and Miki blinked. “I’m Park Min. Welcome to Seoul.”

The greeting was fast, and in the next second, Min was already on his way heading to the exit. Miki clutched his suitcase and hurried after the younger man. His mother would have called Min rude, but Miki actually liked Min’s do-it-yourself attitude.

Outside, Min led the way to a black saloon car, very utilitarian style.

Miki took on the daunting task of loading his suitcase alone. By the time he stuffed the mammoth suitcase inside the trunk, sweat coated his forehead and curiosity burned at what his mother had stuffed inside.

Min was sitting in the front passenger seat, so Miki opened the back door and slid in to the comfortable backseat. He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.

“Hi.”

He dropped his hand to look at the driver. The man in the driver’s seat looked in his late twenties. His smile was easy, his gaze friendly.

“Hi,” Miki said in answer. “I’m Hayashi.”

“Kim Hojun. We’ve been communicating. It’s good to finally match your face to your voice. Call me Hojun, they all do.”

Hojun twisted to the side, extending his right hand in greeting.

Miki took the proffered hand with a wide smile. Hojun’s handshake was quick, not too long, tight or light, it was just right.

“Your advice was so on point,” Miki said, sitting back when Hojun settled back in his seat. “You saved me so much trouble with applications.”

“No problem,” Hojun answered. “I know you must be tired. We’ll head to the house, get you settled, then get you food. On my way to work tomorrow morning, I can drive you to the university.”

“Oh, that’s so generous of you,” Miki said in relief.

He’d armed himself with the public bus schedule but it all seemed foreign until he knew where everything was. Hojun was a godsend. He didn’t know how they all knew Hiroyuki, but he hoped to treasure this connection too.

Hojun smiled and started the car, heading out.

“Sorry about you having to handle your suitcase on your own.” Hojun glanced at him through the rearview mirror. “I couldn’t leave the car unattended and I only had our Min here to rely on. His temperament is an acquired taste.”

Miki glanced at the back of Park Min’s head and smiled.

“I’m happy for Min. I especially loved the wrinkled paper with my name on it.”

Hojun laughed and Min took the paper from the dashboard where he had tossed it. Min shifted and handed Miki the paper.

“So that you’ll treasure it,” Min said.

Miki took the paper, placing it in his book bag carefully. The ride to his temporary home in this foreign city was filled with Hojun telling him names of streets they used. The man pointed out landmarks, though in the night, they meant nothing to him. He would need to walk on the street in the daytime for it all to sink in. He only knew that he would be living in Itaewon as that was where Hojun and the Parks were based. He was looking at a one-hour commute to school, but that was common even back at home. He didn’t mind it. In fact, his blood sang with excitement, already eager to get out there and discover the city for himself.

Through Hojun’s easy conversation, he discovered that Park Min was Park Shin’s younger brother. They had the same father, but different mothers. The two had lived separately until Park Min’s mother passed away a year ago. In order to nurture their brotherly love, their father insisted Min move in with Shin.

Miki watched Min’s expression through the rear view mirror. The tense way Min sat at the mention of Shin made him think there was a lot Hojun was leaving out.

“To warn you, Shin is an acquired taste too,” Hojun said as he turned into a well-lit street, in what looked like a good-looking neighborhood. “More so than our Min, here. Don’t mess with his stuff and you will get along fine.”

Park Min chuckled in the front passenger seat and Miki wondered if he’d landed into a strange living situation.

Hojun drove up a hilly street, and stopped at a two story building. The bottom boasted a charming coffee house named Shinjiru. Shinjiru was closed, but the black king-size mug on the side of the building was lighted, emphasizing the name.

On the same side, a staircase snaked up to the second floor of the building to what looked a glass door. Hojun opened the trunk, and Miki came out of the car. He loved the neighborhood already, it wasn’t noisy, though there were a few business buildings across the street. Min didn’t wait for them and instead skipped up the stairs to the glass doors.

Hojun helped him with his suitcase. Miki instantly liked Hojun because the man helped him carry his ridiculous suitcase up the stairs, which were designed for maximum cardio exercise, without a complaint. Hojun took the handle of the suitcase when they placed it on the landing, and he opened the glass doors, ushering Miki into a small foyer.

The glass doors shut behind them, instantly closing out the outside. There was a metal door into the building fitted with a digital lock.

“The code is 2-4-2-4,” Hojun said as he punched in the numbers. The lock instantly unlocked and the door swung open. “Shin hasn’t changed it for years, so don’t worry about that. In case it does happen, I will give you my cell phone number. Call me and I will help you out.”

Miki nodded in understanding praying that this Shin would cooperate and not play such a terrible joke on him.

They entered the house and Miki smiled. The apartment took up the entire length of the coffee house downstairs. He was greeted by the living room, set in a deep hole in the middle of the house. Couches with colorful cushions were arranged in an inviting round setting, a short glass coffee table taking up the space in the middle.

The wall on his right, resonated with the front of the coffee house. This wall was all glass, tinted as he could not see in when he was outside. It felt like the entire neighborhood was displayed for him to view to his heart’s content. There was a balcony outside and hanging flower pots with overflowing purple flowers graced the roof, offering privacy when needed.

To his immediate left, one corner had a kitchen space: counters and cupboards against the wall, and an island table in the middle surrounded with high chairs. The fridge was against the wall, allowing the kitchen to flow into the living area. Then to his far left, were three doors. Min entered the one closest to the kitchen and closed it without another word. The door in the middle was open, and the one next, the furthest from the kitchen, was closed.

Hojun, who stood beside him, smiled and pointed at the doors, starting with Min.

“Park Min, then you, the last door there belongs to Park Shin. The rooms are self-contained so you don’t have to share a bathroom or toilet. Believe me, that is a lucky thing as Shin is particular about…everything. The kitchen is open to you anytime, feel free to stock the fridge with whatever you like. Shin eats downstairs, Min…I’m not sure what he’s been doing about food.”

Hojun paused in his explanation looking around the charming living area then the windows.

“Everyone helps out with the cleaning,” Hojun said. “Shin is responsible for making up that schedule. Do not worry, that is the one thing he doesn’t forget. I water the flowers out there. I would love you forever if you helped out when you can. My schedule can get busy. There’s a laptop in your room, a gift from me, it will come in handy for your school. If you want to watch television,” Hojun pointed to the corner of the room where a one three-sitter couch faced away from the windows. It faced the wall that was part of Shin’s room. “The remote is usually on the couch, in the cushions or under the couch, depending on who was watching last.”

“I love it,” Miki said elated.

He made a note to thank Hiroyuki for this, because he doubted he would have been so lucky had he done this on his own.

“Why don’t I help you settle in your room first, then we can think about food.”

Hojun reached for his suitcase, rolling it around the sunken living area, to his door.

“You’re going to have to tell me what you like to eat. When Hiroyuki was staying here, I had such fun meeting his challenges. He loved to cook and could make anything.”

Miki listened to Hojun go on about Hiroyuki’s stay with them. He discovered that Hiroyuki’s parents knew Shin and Min’s dad. When their son had wanted to spend a month tasting Korean cuisine, they had arranged with Mr. Park for their son to stay here. Hiroyuki loved the experience and even made dinner for Mr. Park every Friday for the duration of his stay. With the way Hojun spoke, Hiroyuki had won Mr. Park’s affection. Which explained why it was so easy for Mr. Park to allow him to stay here for the pittance he was paying every month.

Now he really owed Hiroyuki a big debt.

His room was comfortable: medium size, not small like the room he rented back in Tokyo with his roommates. The windows were the best part of the room. So wide, they would let in the sun to perfection. There was a bed, a closet built into the wall, and a desk right by the windows with a chair. The laptop sat on that table, ready for him.

Hojun placed his suitcase by the closet, and retrieved a set of new sheets and a spread for the bed. They worked in fast harmony, making the bed, then quickly arranging two fluffy pillows at the head. Once that was done, Hojun led the way to a door tucked in right beside the closet. The bathroom had a toilet, a shower stall, and there was a sink with a mirror above it.

“Hairdryer is here,” Hojun opened the little cupboard under the sink. “Cleaning supplies and all that. Let me know when you run out, or write a note to Shin.”

“Laundry?” Miki asked.

“Ah yes, there is a laundry room behind the coffee shop. The key to the door is in the kitchen. I’ll show you where. No one will bother you even if you go when the coffee shop is open. Okay?”

“Okay,” Miki said, feeling at ease.

His living needs sorted, now all he had to do was get used to the commute to school and settle into the rhythm of a new environment. He hoped everyone he met was as helpful as Hojun.

“Now, how about I find out if we can get food delivered?” Hojun glanced at his watch. “Thirty minutes or so, we can meet in the kitchen? Do you want anything specific?”

“Whatever you get is fine,” Miki said, not really hungry. His stomach was filled with butterflies.

Hojun studied him for a second, then squeezed his shoulder, probably to soothe him. He left the room, leaving the door slightly ajar.

Alone, Miki sat on the edge of his now neat bed and fell back with a sigh staring at the blue ceiling. Five hours ago, he’d been hugging his mother goodbye, watching her tears flow like he was going to war. Mrs. Hayashi was probably waiting for a message from him.

Miki got up and went to the laptop on the desk. He thanked his lucky stars as Hojun had even set the password for the house WiFi. Ten minutes later, he had sent a message to the family email, and a huge thank you to Hiroyuki, who had now turned into his most favorite person in the world.

Finished, he stretched his arms above his head and got up. He was wondering if he could squeeze in a shower when his door opened wide, and a tall man filled the doorway.

Dark brown hair, too long to be called neat, it bordered on shaggy. Dark eyes swept over him, then the room as though searching for something. When he didn’t find it, the gaze returned to Miki.

“Hayashi?”

Miki nodded.

“Park Shin,” the man said. “Sorry to startle you, I was cleaning in here early. Wanted to make sure I didn’t leave stuff hanging out.”

“The place looks great,” Miki said. “Thanks for cleaning my room.”

Shin studied him for a moment longer, then nodded toward the kitchen.

“Hojun is setting out a spread like you wouldn’t believe. We rarely get this treatment here, so if you’re hungry, better hurry. Min doesn’t spare anyone anything.”

The invitation was cordial, unexpected of the man Hojun said was particular about everything. Whatever that meant. Miki gave up the shower idea and followed Shin to the kitchen.

The scent made his mouth water. Seems as though all the traveling got him hungry again. Shin chose a high chair on one side, patting the seat beside him for Miki. Across the table, Hojun sat arranging the food so that everyone could get to it. Min’s rice bowl was already filled with meat.

“Min, eat slower. You’re going to choke,” Shin commented.

Miki, whose gaze had been on Min, noted the crease on Min’s forehead at the comment. Min slowed down his bites, his shoulders tense as he stared at the fried chicken pieces closest to him. Miki picked up the chopsticks beside his plate, reached for a piece of fried chicken and placed it on Min’s plate. Min glanced at him and he smiled in encouragement.

Min grinned, his enthusiasm returning as he dug into his food.

Hojun held out a bowl of beef stew to him and gave him a wink. Thanking him, Miki picked up his spoon and took his first bite of Korean food. He ate like a starving man. He and Min could be kindred spirits. When there was only last piece of fried chicken in the bowl, Miki laughed when Min stared at it, his gaze longing as though he hadn’t eaten the largest portion.

Taking the piece, he was going to place it on Min’s plate, when a strong hand wrapped around his wrist and the chicken ended up on Shin’s plate.

“Share with me too,” Shin said, when he released Miki’s hand.

“You’re just jealous Miki seems to like our Min.”

“I’m never jealous,” Shin said, biting into the chicken with relish.

Hojun laughed and got up, ready to clear the table. When Miki got up to help, Shin grabbed his left arm and made him sit down.

“You’re a guest today,” Shin said. “Min will help Hojun.”

“You’re so cordial today,” Hojun teased, taking the empty bowls of food to the sink.

Min got up too and gathered the containers the food had come in. Miki drank water, watching the pair clean up the table in silence. Mostly, he watched Min who seemed to have a secret smile doing the simple task. That smile was hard to hide when Shin handed him his empty plate and bowl. Miki frowned. He knew that smile, had seen it on his brother’s lips when he handed his mother money toward the house expenses.

Min wanted Shin’s acknowledgement.

Shin finished drinking his water and stood up, taking his glass and Miki’s to the sink where Hojun was finishing the rest of the dishes.

Once the kitchen was clean again, Shin stood in the middle of the kitchen.

“Well, thanks for the food, Hyung,” he told Hojun. “Everything settled, Hayashi?”

“Yes,” Miki answered.

“Great,” Shin said. “Well, you guys have a good night. I have things to do.”

Shin left the kitchen without another word, heading to his room. Min watched his brother close his door, his shoulders slumped. Hojun squeezed the young man’s shoulders and they both watched Min head to his room.

“I wish those two would try talking,” Hojun said with a sigh. “Life would get easier for them.”

Miki turned to Hojun.

“Does Shin not like Min?”

“I think it’s a case of not taking the time to get to know each other.” Hojun glanced at his watch, a perpetual habit, Miki noted. “It’s almost twelve o’clock. I should get going. I live five minutes away, maybe you can visit when you are settled. Tonight, I’ll let you sleep. I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty in the morning, we should get to Campus at around eight-thirty to nine. Okay?”

Miki nodded, following Hojun to the front door. Hojun opened the door and Miki touched his shoulder.

“Thank you, Hojun.”

“It’s no trouble,” Hojun said, looking beyond him to the two closed doors on opposite ends. “In time, you will see that I’m the one who should be grateful to you. Get some sleep, Hayashi.”

“Please call me Miki,” he said.

Hojun smiled, his gaze lighting up.

“Miki it is. Good night.”

“Good night.”

***



Part 3 – Daily Life, Two Friends, and Two Brothers

Two weeks flew by in a whirlwind filled with settling into his course schedule, which had the same punishing demands as the one he kept at Tokyo University, and his new home. Hojun drove him to school the first three days, but on Thursday, two of his class mates in the ‘Doing Business in Korea’ class discovered they lived close to him. When they found out he lived above Shinjiru Coffee, their excitement grew and in an instant, he made two new friends: Roberto Kim, who was a Korean-Italian living in Seoul until graduation, and Im Sunha, whose parents insisted he live at home.

Thursday morning, the two guys met him at the coffee shop, and Miki gladly learned to use the public bus. From there, he released a worried Hojun from carting him from home to school and back. And his first real immersion into the city began.

Sunha knew all the best places to eat, shop, and hang out. Roberto made Miki feel at ease, because his Korean was way better than Roberto’s. The locals could at least understand what he was saying.

Sunha and Roberto filled his time. So busy did they keep him, the days passed too fast. He always got home in time to take a shower, and fall on his bed, dead asleep.

Thanks to an excellent guidance counselor, his weekends were free of classes. He spent his first weekend doing chores Shin had left listed on the fridge. The man was a silent slave driver. The list included vacuuming the couches, shaking out floor rugs, to cleaning the windows in the living room, inside and out. That first Saturday, chores took up half his day. By the time Miki finished with his laundry, he was too tired to meet Roberto and Sunha, so he stayed home finally arranging his closet. It turned out his mother had thankfully left out the cupboards.

The second weekend, Miki was well prepared for Shin’s list of chores. He woke up at seven-thirty in the morning, and went to the kitchen. Sure enough, it was up already even though Shin was nowhere in sight. Miki grabbed the list and read Shin’s scratchy handwriting.

Wipe down windows, shake out floor rugs in sitting area, vacuum couches and floor, mop floor…

Slave driver, Miki scowled.

Did Shin know Miki’s mother treated him like a precious son? She had done his laundry, cleaned his room and arranged his closet all his life.

Oh well, that was part of the reason he had ended up in Seoul, he thought with a sigh.

Tying a red scarf around his forehead to keep back his hair, Miki went to a closet behind the fridge and got the cleaning supplies. He took the floor rugs out to the balcony, hanging them on a rail, then he cleaned the windows. He was well into vacuuming the couches when Min appeared at his bedroom door. Miki finished vacuuming the floors and turned off the machine.

“Morning,” he said with a wide grin. “Hungry?”

Min stared at him, his gaze sleepy, a frown gracing his smooth forehead.

“What’s with the noise so early in the morning,” Min grumbled. “Couldn’t you do this later?”

“Later, I have to go out,” Miki said, looking forward to visiting Sunha’s house.

Sunha had said his parents were out of town, so they could do whatever they wanted.

“Again?” Min scoffed. “Guess you only sleep here and clean the floors.”

Miki frowned at the comment. Placing the vacuum cleaner to the side of the couch, Miki came up from the living area and stretched his arms above his head.

“Min, what are you doing today?” he asked, dropping his arms.

“Nothing,” Min said. “Doing homework…maybe.”

Miki heard the unsaid words. Heard the loneliness ringing through. He’d felt that loneliness once. In high school when weekends were spent in school, then in his room studying. Truthfully, he should have tried to make friends, but after years of ignoring his classmates, they’d taken to ignoring him too.

Miki went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. He’d gone shopping last night for groceries. He was the only one who did, as he’d yet to run into Shin even at University to ask about a grocery list.

Taking out eggs, Miki took the pack of six eggs to the cooking range and reached for a pan. The easiest meal he knew how to make was an omelet. Sunha had brought him fresh veggies from the market near his house, which Miki placed in a basket on the counter. Taking one huge tomato, an onion and garlic, he went to the sink to wash them.

Curious Min came into the kitchen and settled on the closest chair, bracing his elbows on the table.

“What are you making?” Min asked, when Miki cracked the eggs into a bowl.

“An omelet,” Miki whipped the eggs. “Wanna help?”

“I don’t know how,” Min answered.

“It’s easy. I’ll teach you.”

Min hesitated.

Miki worked on chopping onions, and was cutting tomatoes when Min appeared on his right. He handed the garlic to Min.

“What do I do with it?” Min asked, studying it like a foreign object.

“Peel it first,” Miki said, biting back a laugh.

Min was diligent. With a paring knife, he peeled four cloves without flinching. They didn’t need the whole garlic, so Miki took back the rest of the garlic.

“Now, crush them with the back of the knife,” Miki advised.

Starting the cooker, he poured olive oil onto the pan. Once the oil was hot enough, he added the onions. Min watched his every move with a keen eye. Miki allowed him to add the garlic, careful to make sure Min wouldn’t burn himself. When the mixture sizzled, he added the egg on top. Min grinned when the eggs bubbled, then set on the pan.

“Now the challenge,” Miki teased, taking the spatula. He handed it to Min and pulled him closer to the cooking range. “We’re going to turn the egg, and it shouldn’t break into pieces.”

Miki guided Min, running the spatula under the egg. There was no liquid on the top, so Miki was confident they would turn it without a break. Watching Min bite his lower lip, nervous about the exercise was priceless. They turned the egg with only one scare when the other side didn’t stretch right. Miki took over then, making sure the egg stayed intact.

When it was done, Min grinned.

“Is that good?”

“Very,” Miki said, lowering the heat.

The top was a nice color, in a minute, the simple omelet would be done. He got a plate from the cupboard above the cooking range and placed it on the counter.

“Breakfast is done. Min, I always buy eggs, so whenever you feel hungry, do you think you can make this?”

“You don’t mind?” Min asked, his gaze wide in surprise.

“Nope.”

“I can pay you the groceries,” Min said. “Hojun gives me the cash, but I never know what to make. Sometimes, it’s boring to always eat out and worse to eat alone.”

Miki turned off the cooker. He put the egg on the plate.

“That one’s for you,” Miki said, placing the pan on the cooker.

He used the remaining onions and tomatoes to make his omelet. When he was done, he placed his plate on the island table beside Min. Washing kiwis from the fruit basket, he cut them into pieces, and brought a share for Min. Lastly, he got two glasses and filled them with orange juice.

They ate in silence for a while. Then Min relaxed and the dam broke. Boy was the kid a talker. Min asked questions, as though he were preparing for a quiz in the next minute. Miki answered with patience born from being too nice.

Min asked him about Japan, how it felt to live here, what he liked to eat, why he was doing the exchange program. Did he know how to make sake? His favorite food? Music? Movies? Video games? Why did he choose Seoul of all places to visit? Since he was in university, did he have a girlfriend yet?

“No, I don’t,” Miki answered.

“Why not?” Min asked.

Thanks to Min’s distracting quiz session, they’d finished breakfast, washed their dishes, and now Miki was finishing the moping in the living room. Min took the aired rugs from the balcony and replaced them.

“Hayashi?”

“Min, call me Miki.”

Min smiled straightening the rug under the coffee table.

“Will you answer my question?”

“Never thought of getting one.”

Truth was, he wasn’t interested in girls.

In high school, he had a crash on the school’s best basketball player. Akashi was his name. Goodness that boy could throw a ball. He’d loved watching Akashi race across the basketball court, all sweaty, tall and lanky. He’d dreamt about Akashi, wanting to kiss him, listen to him talk and laugh. Sadly, Miki never managed to gather the courage to approach Akashi. Too shy, too…well, his state of mind in high school could be considered uptight. Though, right before graduation, Akashi broke his heart by kissing a girl in the darkest corner of the library. The pathetic soul that he was, he’d ran off and gone to cry in the boy’s bathroom. The only time he ever skipped classes.

“Will you get one?” Min asked, breaking into his thoughts.

“No.”

“Why?” Min asked, sitting on the coffee table.

“You ask a billion questions,” Miki countered, taking the mop and bucket to go pour the dirty water in a drain fitted outside on the balcony floor.

When that was done, he used a tap he had discovered hidden behind a flower pot to rinse the bucket and mop. He left them to dry propped against the wall.

Min came out to join him on the balcony, taking the sprinkler from the corner. He filled it with water.

“You’re the first person I’ve asked so many questions in a while,” Min said.

Miki leaned on the balcony railing watching a couple walk their dog on the street. He loved their neighborhood. Liked watching their neighbors going about their lives from here.

“Why in a while?” Miki asked.

“No one has the time to listen,” Min answered, watering Hojun’s flowers.

Miki frowned, remembering Hojun had said Min’s mother died.

“Did your mum listen?” Miki asked, returning his gaze to Min who had stopped watering the flowers.

Min studied a violet flower and Miki wondered if Min was avoiding his question.

“She never got tired of my questions,” Min answered after a long while. His voice low, too low. “I miss her, Miki. Sometimes, I think I hear her voice, but when I turn—

Min broke off, swallowing hard.

Poor Min was still grieving his mother.

Miki wondered if Shin even knew the pain his brother was living with.

“Min,” Miki said, waiting until Min was looking at him. “Anytime you are curious about something, come find me. Okay? You can call me, text me, I promise I will answer.”

Min swallowed hard, his eyes glittering in the sunlight with unshed tears. Then Min, looked away and coughed. He swiped his hand over his face, probably wiping away a tear. Miki turned back to watch the streets to give Min some privacy.

“Can I come with you to visit your friend?” Min asked after a few minutes, he came to lean on the railing beside Miki.

Miki bumped Min’s shoulder with his.

“Are you sure you won’t be bored? We’re not doing anything special, just watching movies and maybe play video games—

“It sounds like fun,” Min cut in. “Can I come with?”

Miki shrugged.

“Sure, why not.”

***

Sunha and Roberto loved Min, especially when they discovered he was a pro with video games. Miki watched them play. His gaze half on the television where an English movie was running, Roberto’s choice, and on the game Sunha and Min played on the screen right next.

As the afternoon wore on, Roberto introduced beers into the small party. Sunha allowed Min a sip, and in the next moment, the sixteen year old held his own can. Miki hoped that Shin wouldn’t be too pissed if he discovered they encouraged under aged drinking. Especially when they discovered Min’s alcohol tolerance was lower than that of an ant. Halfway through the can, and the kid was drunk. He passed out on the couch, much to Sunha’s shock and Roberto’s amusement.

Roberto laughed when Miki tried to wake Min up with no response.

“Stop laughing, do you know I’m going to have to carry him home.”

Miki shook his head when he touched Min’s arm and got a grunt in answer.

“You say his last name is Park?” Sunha asked, pausing the video game and the movie.

“Yeah,” Miki nodded, crouching beside Min. “He has an older brother, Park Shin. Haven’t spent much time with him since I arrived.”

“What about them?” Roberto asked Sunha.

“Hmm…a year ago, a lady named Park Suni died in a tragic car accident. The story made it to local papers because the press discovered she was a mistress to the owner of the Shinjiru Coffee, Mr. Park. Word is, Mr. Park’s actual wife was so shocked, she got on a flight to New York and hasn’t returned since. I can’t imagine what that must be like for Min and his older brother.”

Miki stared at the sleeping teenager, aching to the core at the tragedy tying Min and Shin.

“No wonder he seems so closed off,” Miki said, getting up. He stretched his arms above his head. “Guess that just makes him right for our group, right? Can’t believe we got him drunk.”

“I’ve never met anyone who gets drunk from half a can of beer.” Roberto laughed.

Miki bent to study a sleeping Min. He was an adorable kid, made him want to protect him from the terrible realities of life.

“Stop laughing Rob and help me with him.”

Sunha didn’t live too far from the coffee house, so the trek home wasn’t too bad. Min’s warmth on his back was comfortable, but this carefree view ended the moment he had to climb the punishing stairs to their house. Try carrying a full-grown teenager, full on dead weight as the punk was passed out cold, and see how that feels like.

Sweat coated his face by the time he opened the door, his breath coming out in short gulps. Miki wondered if he shouldn’t join a gym in this new life he was carving out. He removed his shoes, and bent lower when Min shifted dangerously on his back. His hands holding Min’s thighs to keep him balanced, Miki focused on getting to Min’s room.

“What happened?”

Shin’s deep voice startled him but he didn’t stop. He felt on the verge of collapse, so he ignored Shin and hobbled to Min’s room. He made it in time to drop Min on his bed. Wiping his face with his t-shirt, Miki straightened his back with a groan.

God, he was only twenty-one, and he felt like an old man.

Shin entered Min’s room, coming to the bed to check Min’s pulse, pressing his palm on Min’s forehead to check his temperature.

“Is he sick?”

Miki scoffed. “Unless you count a lonely heart an illness.”

“Then why did you carry him in?” Shin demanded.

Miki bit his tongue remembering he was the reason Min was passed out. He moved around the bed and concentrated instead on removing Min’s shoes, then getting the covers from under Min.

Shin stopped glaring at him to help remove Min’s belt. Once they had the boy comfortable, Miki pulled the covers over Min, and paused when Shin bent over to smell Min’s breath.

“He’s drunk!”

Miki left the bedroom when Min promptly snuggled into his pillow with a small smile holding back a laugh at Shin’s unhappy expression.

He heard Min’s door close behind him, and then Shin was grabbing his right hand.

“You got my brother drunk. He’s sixteen!”

Shin’s dark brown eyes were angry, their depths liquid like molten dark chocolate.

Miki stared unable to look away.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

Miki frowned.

“It was one beer. He was perfectly safe.”

“Are you drunk too?” Shin demanded.

“No.”

Shin took a step closer, his grip on Miki’s right arm tightening. Miki gasped when Shin leaned close and sniffed his breath. The action so abrupt, and intimate, their gazes were an inch away.

Miki blinked, his gaze transfixed by dark brown eyes, and something shifted inside him. Shin dropped his eyes to his lips. Miki held his breath, suddenly too hot. The reaction surprised him, so he stepped back, jerking his hand out of Shin’s hold.

“Stop hanging out with my brother,” Shin said, his tone abrasive.

It annoyed Miki.

“What happens if I don’t stop?”

“I’ll make you want to go back to Tokyo,” Shin warned.

Miki smiled. He doubted that was possible. He was having too much fun to go back to Tokyo.

“I’d like to see you try.” Miki countered. “While you’re at it, try showing some concern to Min directly. He has no idea you care.”

Moving around Shin, Miki hurried to his bedroom ready to slam the door closed. Remembering Min was asleep next door, he controlled the slam, closing the door with a firm thud and leaned on it. His heart pounded in his chest, as though he’d raced up a mountain. Miki breathed out, and decided he needed sleep.

***



Part 4: Park Shin – That Man, he Stole my Heart

Miki couldn’t stop thinking about Shin and his concern for Min. Shin’s silent concern reminded him of his older brother, Nobu. The mysterious man who had spoken up for him at the least expected moment.

Were all older siblings so uniformed? Why keep the concern and worry hidden? Did it make sense keeping Min in the dark? All Min wanted was Shin’s attention, why didn’t Shin see that?

Miki dropped his pen on his open book and stared out the windows he’d cleaned. It was raining. A gentle rain, washing away the dust on Hojun’s flowers. Miki sat on a cushion set on a rug right by the floor length windows, books around him. The house quiet, Min was still asleep, and Shin…well, his door was closed. Miki didn’t know if he was in or out, though he couldn’t help wondering where Shin would go so early on a Sunday morning.

Moving his books aside, Miki stretched out on the rug, folding his arms on the cushion, he rested his chin on them, and let out a soft sigh. One minute he was watching raindrops on the glass, the next…he fell asleep.

A soft touch on his jaw woke him. Opening his eyes, he stiffened when he saw Shin seated beside him. His first instinct was to sit up and put space between them. Noting Shin was reading one of his books, Miki curbed the urge and kept still instead.

Shin wore earphones, listening to music from his phone. In a comfy blue sweater, and slacks, he sat with his legs folded. The book resting on the floor. His hands were large and strong and for a moment, Miki watched Shin turn the pages on the book.

When had Shin come to sit next to him? Why?

It was still raining, he could hear the raindrops falling faster now. He shifted his legs and realized there was a blanket covering him. The movement drew Shin’s gaze. Miki froze, meeting amused dark eyes.

Miki started to get up, but then Shin removed one of his earphones and extended it to him. Miki took it, lay back on the cushion and pressed it into his right ear. Shin shifted his to his left ear to accommodate him.

Jinsil’s voice singing It’s Over filled his head. The music matched the mood of the day, though he wasn’t sure about the lyrics. They were a tad depressing.


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