A part of my birthday fic for Ken, but can be considered as a whole story in itself anyway. :3
The lyrics to a children’s song meant for forest preservation is posted on the wall while a huge television screen show an animation featuring said song. Singapore’s Garden By The Bay is filled to the brim, as it should be on a busy December afternoon. Hongbin walks pass it, intended to get the job done.
The first time they meet Hongbin is crouched down on the floor of the Flower Dome conservatory, taking photos of the entire dome from a worm’s view. His long wavy brown hair is messily tied up with strays of bangs all over his face. Strings of different languages explode in the background as he focuses at the task at hand, with a thought on the flow of his blog entry for tonight already forming in his mind.
“You need help with that?”
The man’s voice is a little high-pitched, but the Korean is a pleasant thing to hear after days of not hearing it. He looks up to where the voice is and sees a man with a wide grin and a huge nose. His dark brown hair is flat on his head and his eyes crinkle with his genuine smile, showing small wrinkles around it. He looks like a chaebol with his immaculately unwrinkled white buttoned down shirt tucked in his skinny chino shorts and blue espadrilles.
Compared to Hongbin’s faded Atari vintage shirt, distressed skinny jeans and ragged Chucks, the man is an entirely different galaxy of his own. Why is he even talking to Hongbin?
“Not really, my bones don’t creak just yet,” He effortlessly stands up and cradles his camera on his arms. The man is as tall as Hongbin although a little bit slimmer. Hongbin squints when the man cackles at Hongbin’s response. Okay, the guy has questionable humor.
“I was pertaining to the photo angle, but hey with muscles like yours I doubt you’d even need help lugging 20 kilos of baggage on your own,” Jaehwan’s comment only makes Hongbin self-conscious. He touches his arms and glares at Jaehwan.
A group of Chinese tourists are being led by their leader, a person holding an antenna of some sort where a small dishevelled Hello Kitty doll hangs, walks in between the man and Hongbin, but the latter can still feel the man’s eyes on him. There are a new group of people coming in from the entrance and Hongbin should really make a move if he wants to get the best photos of the entire dome.
“I’m Jaehwan, by the way, Lee Jaehwan,” The man extends his hand to Hongbin and its soft and clearly, the man hasn’t done a lot of hard work in his entire life. Hongbin’s too embarrassed to even show his own calloused hands, but he shakes it anyway.
“Hongbin, Lee Hongbin,” He says. Jaehwan smiles at that and suddenly pulls him towards the 1,000 year old olive tree amidst the dozens of tourists trying to take a photo of it and with it. Hongbin should pull his hands away from Jaehwan. He has more important things to do than let this stranger hold his hand, but then the wide smile on Jaehwan is captivating. Definitely captivating that it renders Hongbin speechless and needy to take a photo of it, maybe just to treasure it or hide it in the depths of his wallet. Maybe.
Jaehwan is announcing his objective before Hongbin can even ask him. “Have you taken a photo of this beauty already?” He has his hands shove in his pockets, but the winning smile on his face spells excitement if it’s anything to go by. Hongbin is rendered speechless. Nobody has ever tried to talk to him abroad before, opting to let the weird emo kid do his thing while they do theirs.
But Jaehwan. Jaehwan seems different. Seems like he needs someone to talk to. Just like Hongbin.
So Hongbin humors him, just this once.
He positions his camera in front of his face and tells Jaehwan to pose in front of it.
“How should I pose?”
“However you want!”
Jaehwan poses unconventionally with his eyes closed and his lips puckering, both hands placed underneath his chin in an attempt to look like a little girl or like a duck, Hongbin doesn’t know. What Hongbin does know it elicits a laugh from him, making the camera shift when he clicks the shutter release.
The photo ends up blurred and he requests to take the shot again with Jaehwan opting a more normal peace sign and a wide smile as his pose. Hongbin stares a little too long at the monitor, taken aback at how beautiful this stranger is. Jaehwan hovers over him in just seconds, that easy grin back on his face.
“Did I look nice?”
Hongbin merely shrugs and makes his way towards the edge of the observatory to take a photo of the glass ceilings. They look stunning with the sunset in the background which is why Hongbin decided to go to Gardens By The Bay in the afternoon in the first place.
“Hey, hey, hey, are you usually this silent or you just don’t like me?” Jaehwan is still following him around. From the corner of Hongbin’s eyes, he can see Jaehwan stand with his hands clasp behind him. He stops and glares at Jaehwan.
“Hey, hey, hey, are you usually this stubborn or you just like me?” That came out terrible. Brutally terrible. He bites his lower lips and stomps away from the scene when he hears Jaehwan yell his response to him.
“Maybe I just like you?” There’s a hanging question mark there which only makes Hongbin turn around and judge Jaehwan. The stranger has this constipated look on his face before he breaks into a laugh. “I don’t know, man. You’re kinda cute, you know, and I’m kinda lonely. What do you say I treat you for early dinner as my apology?”
Hongbin visibly scoffs at that. “Wait, are you asking me out on a date?!” He can’t even begin to describe how absurd this is – a stranger asking him out on a date and him actually accepting it.
“Only if you feed me crabs”
Lee Jaehwan, apparently, is loaded.
After a couple of plates full of lobsters and crabs, Hongbin doesn’t need to know what the man’s job is to realize he’s loaded. Jaehwan tells it anyway. “I’m a horologist,” He casually says as he sucks on a crab’s open leg. The slurping sound should be annoying, but Jaehwan’s blinding grin easily distracts Hongbin.
“You mean a watch maker?” He sticks out like a rock in a pile full of gemstones. Jaehwan brought him to a fancy restaurant, complete with chandeliers and arrogant waiters. They’ve been here for an hour, but he still feels self-conscious, clutching his vintage Atari shirt every now and then.
“Yeah, I guess, you can say that…” Jaehwan puts the crab shell back on its place and wipes his mouth with the napkin. He casually puts his arms on the table and leans towards Hongbin. “And you, Hongbin? What do you do?”
Does he want to reveal personal information to this boy? Maybe. Maybe not.
“I’m a blogger of sorts…” He wipes his mouth with a napkin as well. A waiter passing by asks Jaehwan if they will serve the dessert now. Jaehwan merely nods and waves the waiter off. “A travel blogger, actually”
“That sounds amazing! Is that why you have that humongous camera with you?” He points at the camera placed beside Hongbin. It’s his dad’s old Canon, a pretty old model of DSLR, but still functional. It’s not that huge or is it heavy, except for the lens he always brings with him.
What Hongbin takes note off though is the fact that Jaehwan doesn’t question the legitimacy of his profession. Just accepts it like it’s an amazing job, like it’s a professional’s job. Nothing lower than a blue-collar job.
“So does that mean my beautiful face is going to be featured in your blog?” Jaehwan’s eyes visibly twinkles as he rests his face on his palm. Hongbin snorts at that. “As if I’d let you desecrate my work of art,” Jaehwan clutches his heart in an attempt on fake surprise before he giggles.
They become comfortable after that, talking about anything and everything. Jaehwan is a smooth talker, easily maneuvring their conversations around. Menial talks about why they’re in Singapore are exchanged with Jaehwan being there for a client and Hongbin being there for his job. Soon, Hongbin finds out that Jaehwan’s laughter causes his heart to beat two times faster than it usually does. He also finds out that Jaehwan has a habit of biting his lower lip whenever he tries to say a joke and doesn’t get the respond he wants. So Hongbin opts to laugh at every silly joke Jaehwan throws at him, may they be laughable or not.
Their desserts, a bowl of green tea ice cream topped with coffee jellies, are left abandoned on the table. They’re both full, both physically and emotionally. It’s been weeks since Hongbin has had a decent conversation with somebody, anybody. And with the way Jaehwan smiles, it seems the same case for Jaehwan as well. Jaehwan pays for the bill with his card and together they stumble out of the restaurant and to the street.
There are a lot of people going about their own thing, a group of tourists taking photos on the famous Helix Bridge or a couple going on an evening stroll while holding hands. Jaehwan stretches his arms up in the air while Hongbin stands awkwardly with his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
Isn’t this the part where they should ask for their numbers? Find a reason to meet again? Say stupid things they might regret in the near future?
“Well, it was nice meeting you Hongbin,” A shy smile decorates Jaehwan’s face as he looks at Hongbin. There are wrinkles near his eyes and Hongbin has a sudden need to touch it, smoothen it even if it’s impossible. Jaehwan looks like he’s about to offer his hand, but thinks otherwise instead, hiding his hands behind his back. Hongbin doesn’t know how to respond to that so he just nods at Jaehwan.
“Yeah, thanks for the dinner, Jaehwan,” He manages to blurt out.
They’re worlds apart and it’s obvious in the way they wear their clothes, the way they carry themselves, even in the way they talk. But somehow, it seems like it doesn’t matter, yet it still matters.
“I guess I’ll see you around,” There’s an underlying question in the way Jaehwan says it, but he’s already walking away before Hongbin can even process it.
Hongbin stands there for a good five minutes or so before he finally accepts that no stupid thing will happen for them to meet again.
wolfodder, I choose you!