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“Yes, can I see the green ones, please?” Namjoon asked, reaching his demanding hand out for the employee to place the apple in. “Hm,” he uttered once it was in his hand. The hand squeezed the fruit, unsure if it was disappointed by it. “Can I see another one?”
At that point, Hobi’s eye roll was a reflex more than anything. He sighed heavily too, heavy enough for Joon to take notice and, of course, comment. “Jin only eats green apples. What do you want me to do, not get them?” was his argument. Jum didn’t actually say anything back, but the look on his face said plenty. “You didn’t have to come.”
“You asked me too,” were the first words out of Hobi’s mouth, leaning heavily against the crate of oranges. They were in the produce section of the grocery store down the street from their neighborhood. It wasn’t as big, but it was local, something they needed. It was Sunday, meaning the grocery store list was finalized and Namjoon was receiving it. But still, it was usually a two or three-person job. Somehow, whenever he went to the grocery store with anyone else, things were even more stressful.
“Joon, can we get this too?”
“Joonie, they don’t have the cereal I want.”
“Joon, this place smells like toast. Should we be buying from a place that smells like toast? Ooh, bread.”
“Joon, how much longer?”
“Namjoonie, I can’t find the toiletries. Oh wait, there’s a sign.”
“Joon, I broke something. They’re saying we have to pay for it now. Ooh, bread.”
Hoseok was the only soul in the household that he didn’t uniformly want to kill on a grocery trip. Joon sighed, realizing that none of these apples lived up to Jin’s standards. “Any chance you have more in the back?” Joon asked the man assisting him. Despite having stood by his side for over ten minutes helping him with minuscule things, he faked a smile, nodded, and ushered. “Get the other stuff, please Hobi?” Joon handed him the list and walked away before could Hoseok could even think of saying “no.”
Hobi sighed again, muttering. “I hate the grocery store.”
“I hate the grocery store,” Joon complained, driving down the freeway. “Like, how is it that they don’t have Jin’s special brand of flour or a pink mini fridge. I mean, these are essential things.” He adjusted the glasses on his face. “They’re gonna kill me.”
“Joon, you’re overexaggerating.” Hobi placed a hand on his shoulder, genuinely surprised at how tense it was. “Wow, okay. Look, it’s just food and some other stuff. If they really wanted something else then they could get it themselves.”
“Yeah…sure…” Joon thought, although not taking it to heart. “Did you get the strawberries for Jimin’s cupcake thing?”
Hobi froze, thinking it over. “Uh…?”
Luckily, Joon had already gotten off the freeway before he slammed on his breaks and pulled into a laundromat’s parking lot. “That’s clearly Hoseok for ‘no,’” Joon finished for him, going around to exit again. “What’s happening?” Hobi asked.
“We’re going back to get the strawberries,” Joon said, ready to turn when Hobi grabbed the key and turned the car off. Namjoon’s neck snapped as his head turned to stare at Hobi. “What?”
“Joon, stop. This is stupid. We are not going all the way back to the grocery store to get strawberries because Jimin wants to bite off the tips and shove them on his fingers and pretend that he has strawberry fingers—Why would you even feed that idea?”
“…Because his mom never let him do it as a kid,” Joon reasoned, although now that he thought about it maybe it wasn’t the greatest reason. “Why are you even bringing this up now? Hobi, none of that matters. We just have to go up the street—”
“Joon stop!” Hobi repeated, trying to get his friend’s eyes to settle just on him. It was much harder than he had expected. “You don’t have to do everything for everyone! Let them do it themselves! I don’t understand why you keep torturing yourself like this.”
“It’s not torture,” Joon argued. “Why would you say that? What’s going on? What’s your problem today?”
Hobi’s hands curled into fists, his eyes shutting and jaw clenching; this too had become a reflex. “I’m the help’s help, Namjoon!” Joon blinked, the closing of his eyelids bringing forth a new, much more befuddled look. “When they need something, they go to you, when you need something, you go to me. Who do I get when I need something, Joon?”
Joon’s mouth opened but then closed, then opened and proceeded to shut again. “Me,” he settled on for an answer, doing good to catch Hoseok off guard. “I thought it was me.”
“Well—” Hobi didn’t want to deny that fact, but he knew morally he couldn’t support it either. “It’s not that I can’t but I just…choose not to.” He looked up cautiously, shoulders sinking. Joon looked distraught, feeding into Hobi’s exact fears about exploding like that. He usually didn’t explode, he liked to think it was his job not to. “Look, my job is stressful here, is all I’m saying. I’m getting by fine, you don’t have to worry about m—”
“Then I’ll do it,” Joon interrupted, Hobi wanting to save that underlying issue for later.
“What? Do what?”
“I’ll do your job for a week. This week. This week I’ll do your job.” Joon nodded, accepting this as a good idea.
“That’s not…no,” Hobi said, touching Joon’s arm. “That’s not what I want, that’s what you want. That wasn’t even my point.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Joon said, shaking him off. “No more comforting for you, that is now my job. I want to understand how hard it is for you.” Joon grabbed Hobi’s hand and looked him in the eye. Hobi felt the need to look away. “And in return, you’ll live my life for a week.”
“Ugh, a chiropractor?” Hobi said, unable to help his reaction. Namjoon frowned, pulling away as Hobi apologized and urged him to go on. “Look,” Joon continued. “All I have this week is paperwork, really. Any clients I can handle myself. The same for you. You have to meet with your editor this week, right?” Hobi nodded. “Then I’ll meet with them and I’ll…do stuff like that.” Joon smiled. “I’ll be the organizer of the house and you can be the leader, okay?”
Looking into Joon’s big brown eyes, Hobi wanted to tell him how dumb they were, how limited of a view they had. But he couldn’t, he could never ruin it for him. He also knew if he agreed, it surely would be ruined eventually.
But what other choice did he have?
“Yeah okay,” Hobi agreed, nodding and smiling at him. They shook on it—or rather Joon went in for a high-five and Hobi for a fist bump and they decided neither of those things were very binding.
The week had begun.
Hobi’s response to the knock on Namjoon’s—
—his door was to ignore it, feeling guilt immediately after for assuming that’s what Joon would do. “Come in!” he called, watching the door open cautiously.
Jin looked confused to see Hobi instead of Joon, turning around to make sure he had walked into the right room. Turning back to Hobi, he was even more shocked to see him trying out different styles of Namjoon’s slacks and button-down shirts, putting his thin, white coat over it and then taking it off immediately after, thinking he looked silly. “Uh, why—?”
“Joon and I are switching for the week,” Hobi answered. “It’s a whole thing. Question,” Hobi turned to Jin, showing off his khaki pants and light blue button-up shirt underneath Joon’s classic white jacket. “I look dumb, don’t I? Isn’t this too much?”
Jin just shrugged, hugging the doorframe. “Uh, I mean if you’re going for Joon…that’s what he wears.”
Hobi sighed, his shoulders slumping. “Fine.” He sat on the bed, looking down at Joon’s limited shoe collection—already, he was disappointed. “Anyway, you came in here to talk to Joon, right?” Jin nodded. “Well I’m Joon for this week so lay it on me.”
Jin breathed out of his nose, widening his eyes. “Um, I need money.”
“You have money. You have a job, in fact. What do you need money from me for?”
“Well, you’re Joon, right?” Jin asked, obviously getting to a point. Hoseok slowly nodded. “Well Joon gives me money when I ask and doesn’t ask questions back, therefore…” Jin made a grabbing motion with his hands.
“Wh-Why?” Hobi said, tying his last shoe. “He doesn’t work for you.”
“Yeah, but the whole point of working is so you can, ‘Tangjinjaem tangjinjaem tangjinjaem.’” Seeing that Hobi wasn’t impressed, Jin kept on. “And Joon doesn’t spend it himself. He’d rather spend it on us than no one, that’s just the truth.” Hobi thought about this, not expecting to see this much this early in the game. “Either way,” Hobi said, looking back up at Jin. “The answer is still no.” Standing with his new suit and shoes on, he walked to the door and patted Jin’s shoulder on his way out. “There’s a new sheriff in town.”
On his way downstairs, Hobi paused by the other room, watching as Joon stood where he was, staring at the wall. Hobi walked up to him and stood by his side, staring at the painting of a giraffe eating a coconut—or trying to—above the bed frame. “I don’t…really understand…why we bought that,” Joon admitted, taking his first glance at Hoseok in his clothes. “Wow, you look like me a little bit.”
Hobi just shrugged in agreement, checking out Joon in jean overalls and a yellow T-shirt. “This is a good look for you.”
Joon rolled his eyes and told Hobi to shut up. He did, walking out. Joon remained where he was, taking the clipboard off the bed and writing a check next to “Room 2.” Although he could argue that Hobi’s job was easy, it was also boring.
Checking if everything was still where it needed to be over and over again was overwhelmingly dull. Still, he did it to honor the deal, his deal.
The petite gasp scared Joon more than his presence had probably scared the person to which the gasp belonged to, jumping as he saw Jimin in the doorway of, well, Jimin’s room. “Joonie, what’re you doing in here?”
“I wasn’t snooping,” he argued, rerouting after that. He didn’t know why he was so quick to defend himself, or why his heartbeat had risen so steeply. “I…Hobi and I…” He couldn’t keep staring at Jimin’s surprised and—if he wasn’t reading it right—worried face. “Hobi and I are switching jobs this week. I’m just making sure everything’s in order.” And still, Jimin seemed confused. “You know, as is his job.” Finally, Jimin got it. He nodded his head saying that he was paying attention while his eyes shifted left and right throughout the room. “What’ve you checked so far?”
“Just this room and the bathroom upstairs. Everything is fine so far, but I have to go out soon to meet Hobi’s editor so…” Joon shrugged, wanting very badly for the conversation to end.
“Alright, good luck,” Jimin said, about to walk out before Joon stopped him. “What’s up?”
“Didn’t you come in for a reason?” Namjoon asked, sparking Jimin’s neurons up again.
“Yes, I did…It’s not important. Bye.” And just like that, he was gone.
Hobi had not experienced so much boredom in his life. He had scheduled 5-minute periodic sigh breaks because even now breathing was beginning to increase in value. “I hate this,” he told himself, sitting very not still in Joon’s office. He had paperwork to transfer from paper to the computer. It was patient info: Their injuries, their treatments, names, spouses, next appointment, etc. He squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again, realizing all it did was make him even more tired. “Damn, he is boring…or he does boring stuff.” Hobi then proceeded to spend two full minutes thinking about which one it was, and in that time, the receptionist came back and handed him more papers to transfer. He leaned back in his chair and sighed, disappointed seeing as it was only 30 more seconds until his official sigh break. Joon had told him that morning that the paperwork wasn’t something required of him, but he did it anyway. It was things like that that really got under Hoseok’s skin. He grabbed his phone and unlocked it, scrolling through his contacts for—
But he didn’t press it, because he knew if he did…then it would be giving into every single time Namjoon had ever called Hobi or talked to him after a long day at work. He wouldn’t feed into that, putting the phone down and getting back to the grind. Though it only lasted a full minute, it felt like a pretty successful grind.
Sick of the work, Hobi left the office and went to the break room. It was only down the hall, but that walk felt like the longest walk Hobi had ever taken, and maybe the most peaceful. The room was on the right, an archway leading into the LED-lit area with off-white walls and a surprisingly white fridge. Only four people were there and Hobi was wishing he had more to work with.
“Ugh,” he said, falling into the seat at the table all four of them were sitting at. They shut up as soon as Hoseok washed in, now unpacking his lunch. “This is some boring work we do, am I right?” Without a response to bank off of, Hobi kept on with a new topic. “I’m a little curious why the walls aren’t completely white. Gotta say, looks more like a murder than a color.” Still, no response, Hobi had to wonder. “…Does Namjoon even talk to you guys?” Taking a break from being Hobi’s audience to look at each other, they all shook their head. Hobi’s face fell. “Wait, really?”
“No,” the dark woman with her hair in a bun said. “He doesn’t even come in here. He just sits in his office all day.”
Hobi sighed turning his head. “Come on Namjoon,” he muttered. Abruptly, high heels were heard clicking into the room and all five of them turned to watch as a new woman with red hair, pale skin, and freckles came in, opened the refrigerator, grabbed a bag, took the muffin out of the bag, bit into it, and walked out. Hobi turned back to the guys and asked who she was. “Her name’s Sheila, why?”
Hobi smiled at them. “I’m gonna make Joon a friend.”
“I can’t talk about this feedback with you,” she said, her caramel-ish skin showing signs of a tanning gone right. Her sandy hair cascaded down her shoulders and over her notes as she peered down at them, simultaneously checking the note Joon had brought from Hobi for his editor.
Joon sat on the other side of her desk, holding his hands out in question. “Why? He’s working all week at my chiropractor office and they’re letting him.”
“Yes, and I’m sure you have been there for a long time,” she responded, smiling kindly at Joon. Despite her talk, he still found her to be better than Ali. “Hobi and I are still new in relations and despite this note, there is not much I can tell you, even as his friend.”
Joon sighed. “Then what can you give me?”
“Well…” She rolled away from her desk and to her bookshelf, grabbing the sticky notes on top of it and rolling back. She clicked a pen and started writing. “Hobi and I have been talking about where he draws his inspiration from and he says mainly from the things that make him happy.” She ripped off the sticky paper, slammed it on a blank piece of paper, and slid it over to Namjoon. “So, since you’re his friend…write down all the things that make him happy.”
Joon looked up at her, apprehensive.
He knew he shouldn’t have been.
Unable to hold back on his way home, Hobi pulled out his phone and called Joon.
Joon was sitting on the couch, petting—if you could call stroking an unreceptive snake that—Horse when his phone rang. He picked it up, grinning at who it was. “Hey,” he said, looking over at the kitchen. Even though it was Monday night and the week was just starting to unleash its wrath on the working class, Joon was calmed by the smells of curry wafting out of the kitchen as Jin stirred the soup, putting the ladle to his mouth and tasting his creation, clearly impressed with himself. Joon was hiding in the dark parts of the house, residing in the shadows of the living room as the sun set and no one had turned a light on yet, only Jin had for the kitchen. “Jin’s almost done cooking. Where are you?”
“On the way home,” Hobi answered, shoving his hand in his pocket as he walked down the street. “So how was your day as me?”
Joon shrugged. “So far, not the worst.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why you complain so much.” He continued to stroke Horse. “It’s pretty relaxing.”
“‘It’s pretty relaxing,’” Hobi mocked, scoffing at his friend. “Joon, you don’t know my life yet.”
“Mm,” Joon hummed back. “What about you?”
Hobi sighed. “Yeah, alright. I mean your work is just typing.”
“Ugh, isn’t it soothing?” Joon answered, not even trying to one-up him.
“No!” Hobi argued. “It’s stupid and boring and I hate it.” Joon just laughed at that. “And you should talk to your coworkers.”
Joon was surprised to hear him say it. “Well I mean,” He glanced down shyly. “They don’t talk to me.”
“God, your attitude is horrible. How did you manage to rope such an amazing person as me?” Joon rolled his eyes and chuckled. “I’ll be home soon.”
“Okay guys,” Hobi slammed a notepad down on the rickety table, feeling it creak under him and startle his four new friends. “Tell me about Sheila.”
Tom’s eyes furrowed. “What about her?”
“Like personal stuff?” Uni asked, her head leaning in. “Because I’ve got a few things.”
“No no,” Hobi corrected. “Just, general stuff. Like what does she do?”
“She’s a chiropractor like us,” Uni said. “I mean…why else would she be here?”
“Well, Cherry’s a receptionist so you can see my point in this. Now,” He clicked his pen and prepped the paper. “What else?”
“I think…her parents moved here from Ireland?” Josh mentioned. “So…she’s Irish.”
“Josh, that’s great and all, but I’m not gonna walk up to her and just say, ‘Hey, you’re Irish, right? How’s alcoholism going?’”
“…I’m pretty sure that’s just stereotypical,” Josh responded.
Hobi re-positioned himself, looking puzzled. “So you weren’t trying to be racist?”
“Oh!” Uni perked up. “She’s a baker.”
“Yeah, she made brownies for a party we had here at the office last year,” Tom said, going back to reserved as he added, “Joon didn’t go.”
“Of course not,” Hobi muttered, scribbling it down. “Although I can’t make her brownies…it’ll seem like I’m trying to beat her.”
Back to his room, Hobi sighed as he collapsed back in his chair, staring at the pile of work he had yet to do.
I got distracted, Hobi realized, feeling guilty for not being the “Namjoon” he had promised to be. He reached into his wallet, checking to see if he could take on another break and use his smoothie coupon, when he saw Joon’s credit card…in Hobi’s wallet.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he breathed.
Now Joon knew he wasn’t crazy, or not fully. There were times when he contemplated his own choices for being too dumb or too reckless. But here, he knew even his own mind had limits. Joon stood at the top of the stairs, stacks of clothes in hand, as he saw a figure move. He snapped to attention, back-tracking out of the room and looking toward an empty hallway. He went back into the room and dropped off Yoongi’s respective clothes, again, hearing a noise. He shuffled back out to the hall, now spotting not only a hint of yellow but then some murmurs. Now Joon was curious, creeping down the hallway slowly. His foot pressed on a weak spot in the hardwood the same time a body flew across the hallway from the bathroom into the room at the end of the hall. Joon rushed down there, uncaring of who it was or what they were doing.
Tae perked up quickly, Joon even more surprised as Kookie popped his head up from behind the bed. “Kookie, what’re you guys doing?”
“Nothing,” they said in unison. “We were just looking for something Hobi took,” Tae lied brilliantly.
“Well maybe I can help you find it,” Joon offered, putting the rest of the folded clothes on the bed. “I am the new Hobi now, so…” He waited for them to tell him.
“It’s no big deal, Joon,” Kookie responded. “We’re good.” He got off the floor and grabbed Tae’s shirt, pulling him out.
Joon watched them go, waited for them to descend the staircase, and then started searching the room. He knew that this was past Hobi’s job description and hitting on something more…snooping, he settled on.
So he snooped, knowing that his brain could call it whatever it wanted to and he would still have done it. But he found nothing, sighing as he didn’t. He left the room and went over to the bathroom, checking to see if Yoongi had left her clothes in there again. He felt a headache coming on, opening the cabinet to check for aspi—
Joon saw the pills…Hobi’s name printed on them.
“No,” he breathed, grabbing the bottle and slamming the cabinet door shut.
Walking in, Hobi slammed the door, somehow hoping that would be enough to gather an audience. It wasn’t, so he settled for yelling. “Everyone in this house get down here now!” They all should have been home anyway, and Hobi knew that. They all piled downstairs; Jin, Jimin, Tae, everyone. Hobi counted heads as they came out, relieved that Joon wasn’t one of them. “Good, you’re all here,” Hobi said, reaching into his pocket as he glided over to the table.
Kookie looked around and said, “Joon’s not here—”
“This is about Joon,” Hobi specified, slamming his wallet on the table. “Now does anyone want to guess what’s in there?”
Jin shrugged. “A smoothie coupon and two 20 dollar bills?”
Hobi’s eyes shifted back and forth, squinting. “Yes, but there’s also Joon’s credit card in there.” Now their faces began to warp. “Now I know that I didn’t put it in there…so who did?”
There was silence, their hectic and pounding feet unmatched to their quiet and unwavering stances. Hobi couldn’t handle it for the sole reason that he knew it was someone’s fault. He took the card out and held it up towards Jin. “Jin, you asked me yesterday for money,” Hobi hesitated before asking what he really wanted to ask, ignoring Jin’s astonished face. “Were you the one that—?”
“It was me.” They all turned to Yoongi, Hobi’s head whipping to the end of the line as he looked upon his friend. Her arms were crossed, carrying that stance of power but the look of guilt. “I’m sorry, I just figured you’d be carrying it since you guys are…switching places or something.”
“But Yoongi, that’s not your money,” Hobi argued. “You guys can’t just take whatever you want from Joon! He works hard, too hard for this! You guys are bleeding him dry! Not just of energy, or even of money, but of care, of friendship, of compassion, I mean—!”
“You don’t know,” Yoongi interrupted, shaking her head. “You don’t know about Joon, Hobi…He would never with you.”
“Never give everything,” Yoongi pushed, putting her own hands on the table in a power move. “Joon’s a giving person, he hardly knows who he is without that. He gives…everything to everyone, so he doesn’t have to give anything to himself.”
Hobi’s eyes averted from them, lips puckered in a pre-prepared, “Why?”
Now it was the other’s turn to speak up, Kookie taking it. “Because he already has everything he wants…” Kookie shrugged. “Us.”
Hobi’s power stance with his hands on the table retracted, his face and figure falling apart.
He was not expecting that.
Hobi’s editor paused at her door, staring Joon down as he stood in the middle of the night in the dark parking lot. Her car was the only one in the lot so he knew which one to wait by. “I don’t…understand. What you’re doing here?” she said once she got closer.
Joon just shrugged, handing her an envelope. She took it from his hands, trusting Hobi enough to know that Namjoon was harmless. Opening the envelope and taking the paper out, she realized it was the “homework” assigned to him.
What makes Hobi happy? Read the sticky note. And then she read the paper.
“I…I don’t understand,” She looked up at Joon again, seeing his sullen face. “Nothing makes Hobi happy?”
Joon didn’t want to sugar-coat it, but explain it, playing with his fingers as he did. “Hobi does everything all the time. He might not realize it, but he does. But…doing those things for everyone…doesn’t make him happy.” Joon shook his head. “Being here, writing, talking with you makes him happy…not us.” Joon swallowed. “Not me.” He nodded as he walked away from her, going back to his own van. “So make him happy, Ms. Roberts…because he deserves it.”
Joon turned around and faded into the background.
Joon walked in and paused at the door as he looked over and saw Hobi in the kitchen baking. “Oh, hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Hobi answered back, licking the sugar off his fingers. He did that sometimes. Joon shut the door and waltzed over. “Sorry I missed dinner,” Joon went on.
“Where were you?” Hobi asked, turning to him as he mixed the batter.
Joon just shrugged. Telling your editor how much you needed her. “Nowhere special. Why are you baking?”
Hobi shrugged back. I’m making you friends at work. “No reason.”
“Well, goodnight,” the man answered, turning away.
“Goodnight,” Hobi muttered in reply, going back to his baking.
The thing was, neither of them realized how unorthodox a conversation as sad and stale as that one between those two really was.
“Someone explain this to me before I lose my mind,” Joon said, pacing back and forth around the table as Jin, Yoongi, Jimin, Tae, and Kookie sat there and let him. The pills Namjoon had found in the cupboard were on the table, seeming to expire while they waited. “Now I know that these pills say ‘Hobi’ on them…and I also know that they say ‘anti-depressant’ so someone say something…” Jimin stopped pacing and looked down on his friends, arms crossed. “Before I lose my mind.” The silence ended then; they didn’t want to see what Joon would be like when that happened.
“He wasn’t feeling right,” Tae answered, avoiding Joon’s gaze. “He was stressing over all the verbal abuse that Ali had said to him. He was spiraling, he felt lost…he started smoking again.” Tae stopped there, unsure what to say next.
Jimin picked it up for him. “We took him to a doctor and they prescribed him anti-depressants. Not forever, just until he started to get back into the groove of things.”
“They can just do that?” Joon asked.
“You’re a chiropractor, ask yourself.”
Joon did, and the answer was yes. “And you all…knew about this?” They nodded in unison. “And no one…told me?”
Jin sighed. “Look, we wanted to but—”
“No no,” Joon stopped him, staring off into space. “I get it. I mean…people have different roles here. We all have our secrets, our problems, and whoever Hobi chooses to talk to about it is his choice.” Joon nodded to finish off, glad to get it off his chest. “But…” He continued, cursing himself out in his head because he didn’t want there to be a “but.” He wanted to leave off with that divine understanding and be done with it…but there was always more. “Why were you guys running around earlier? From room to room?”
“Oh,” Kookie said, turning to Tae and Jimin and Yoongi and Jin. “Well, there are certain things we hide around the house sometimes. Just in case the need be and we just want to…keep it from others.” Kookie shrugged. “Hobi helps us.”
“Ah,” Joon said. “Okay, thanks for letting me know. That’s it. You guys can go.” They scattered, soon everyone gone from the room except for Joon as he thought their words over. Something wasn’t sitting right in there. The order didn’t make sense to him.
“Well, there are certain things we hide around the house sometimes. Just in case the need be and we just want to…keep it from others.”
“Hobi helps us.”
He switched it.
“Hobi helps us.”
“Well, there are certain things we hide around the house sometimes. Just in case the need be and we just want to…keep it from others.”
He took some things out.
…keep it from others.
Hobi helps keep it from others.
Hobi helps keep it from others.
Joon looked up. “…from me.”
“Finally,” Hobi breathed, sighing—for the first time—out of grace rather than relief. He got up from the desk and cracked his back, finally able to relieve some of that tension there now that the papers were done.
“Now,” Hobi turned his head to the other side of the desk, looking at the nicely wrapped plate of homemade snickerdoodle cookies. “For Sheila.”
Knock knock knock.
Sheila’s office door opened quickly, her facial expression dropping once she saw Hobi and not her 4 o’clock client. “Hello Sheila!” Hobi said, his perk shining through like a beacon. He had been practicing it all day. “Wow, what a nice outfit.” He looked down at her dark green blouse and blue jeans with flat-toed shoes and that uniform white coat. “And I love your earrings!” he added, looking at her pearls. “I just feel so bad that Joon never talks to the people he works with—”
“—beside, yes of course, and I just thought that I would make a little peace offering on his behalf.” Hobi extended the plate to her, his smile still fresh as time passed and she still didn’t reach her hand out. His hands started to get tired and so did his face muscles, but still, he didn’t move. Eventually, he felt words needed to be had. “Is there something wrong with the coo—?”
And then her hand was reaching out, but not to take the plate, but rather to hit the bottom and smack it into Hobi’s face—littering the cookies everywhere and slamming the plate into Hobi’s nose—before slamming the door in his face right after calling him a “hippie dumbass.”
Josh, Uni, and Tom sat at their usual table in the breakroom, passing around a muffin, when Josh said, “Oh right! Sheila was the one that spat in the brownies at our party.” He snapped. “Should have mentioned that to Hobi.”
Joon’s throat burned with the last drop of wine, wishing his tolerance was just a little bit higher so he could wash away this feeling. But at the last drop, he didn’t feel for it to end. No, he poured more from the bottle to the glass, knowing that all it would do is restart those painful thoughts; those realizations.
We have secrets all over the house, Kookie had said so confidently.
Joon took a sip.
In the kitchen.
In the laundry baskets.
In the living room.
In the beds.
Memories of Joon walking in on Hobi fixing sheets, folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen, moving the couch—God, it all seemed so simple but so complex at the same time. He should’ve known…
…but he didn’t. He never had.
Huh, Joon thought, staring at his glass. Empty again.
“Oh my God, Joon!” Hobi shut the front door and put his friend’s briefcase down by it. His head whipped around for a split second, noticing Joon sitting there restlessly and continuing as if nothing was wrong. “Oh dude, you are so right for not talking to Sheila. She is a stone-cold bitch.” Hobi fell down trying to take off his shoes. “I mean, I think I’m starting to get it.” Hobi paused, thinking. “Those people you work with…aren’t like you, Joon. They’re…boring.” Hobi finally got his shoes off, standing up and turning around. “You’re not bor—” Finally really seeing him, Hobi shut his mouth quickly, seeing Joon’s refined hands clasped protectively over his mouth, solidifying his facial expression as his eyes squeezed liquid from them uncontrollably. “Oh my God, Joon,” Hobi stepped forward, his vision sticking momentarily on the bottle of alcohol before fixating back on Joon’s tears. “What happen—”
What Joon did next took all the strength in the world.
Joon stood up, the chair’s legs scraping the hardwood floor like the tension was just the beginning of their conflict. “Stop,” Joon said, a tremor in his voice so emotional but a weight in it so heavy that Hobi listened, stopping in his tracks. He was still in tears, it only getting worse as he tried to cover it up. Joon turned away from him, pushing the chair in and grabbing the bottle, putting it back in the cupboard. The whole time Hobi was lingering, waiting for a chance—an opening—to speak, to get back in.
But as he reached out to grab Joon’s arm, Joon pulled away again. “Stop it!” he yelled, pushing Hobi back. The wine glass fell to the ground and shattered. Even then—even with the clear hazard laid there to Joon’s naked feet—he wouldn’t let Hobi come any closer. “Just…stop,” Joon sniffed, wiping his face angrily. He couldn’t un-see Hobi in that light, in the way the others saw him. “You don’t just go to them with your secrets and concerns and problems,” Joon started, looking Hobi in his hurt eye. “…They go to you with theirs…and they only ever come to me for money.”
Hobi shook his head. “Joon, that’s not true—”
“It is, Hope, and you know it.” Joon took a step closer, flinching as his foot grazed the glass. “You know it and you never told me.”
Hobi’s eyes started to water, hurting himself…because that’s what he did: He took Joon’s pain and internalized it, warped it, and sent it on its merry way. But not this time. “Joon…” Hobi tried to reach out again, but Joon turned away, grabbing a broom. “…Comforting me isn’t your job anymore, Hobi…it shouldn’t have to be.” He began to sweep. “Just go.”
He didn’t want to go, he didn’t want it to be over, but at the same time…maybe he did. So Hobi left, walking up the stairs and to his room.
This brought back memories.
“Another one I see?”
Hoseok walked into the air-conditioned house, hands shoved in his pockets and book bag strap falling off his shoulders. He looked around the kitchen of unfamiliar faces, the people who had been there since freshman year, who had built relationships with each other. He never had a problem making friends, but it also wasn’t an easy process, not when it felt like the more friends you made the more likely for there to be one person excluded.
He never thought he would be that one person.
“Hey, honey?” The woman who asked him the question when he first walked in spoke again, grabbing Hoseok’s attention. “Yes, sorry. Yes, I’m here for the study group.”
“Great! Namjoon should be out soon,” she said, smiling. He assumed that was his mom, holding plates of cookies in her hands. The pride in her son showed in her soft hands, but especially in her cheekbones.
Hoseok swung his car keys around as he approached the table of others, knowing most of them from his history class. Putting his hands on the counter, he interrupted the conversation and said, “So I guess that means we all failed the history exam?”
They all nodded, abandoning their old conversation for Hoseok’s, because Hoseok designed his to be superior. “I mean it’s barely a study group,” one of the girls, Bailey, said. “Namjoon is basically just gonna teach us how not to fail.”
“Never heard of him,” Hoseok commented, taking a soda can from the middle pile. “I guess that’s just one of those freshman meets that you never forget, right?”
Bailey and the others laughed. “Yeah, basically.”
Few more minutes passed and the conversation went on, switching many times until Hoseok’s bladder could no longer take it. He asked the mother where the bathroom was and she pointed down the hallway, Hoseok following her finger. Two steps closer to the door and he could tell someone was in there already, now redirecting himself towards the stairs. He figured if there was one down, there would be one up. He was correct, seeing a barely ajar door at the end of the upstairs hallway. He had to go so bad that he really didn’t take the time to proceed with caution, barging into the empty—
—It was not an empty bathroom.
Hoseok’s eyes widened as he saw Namjoon leaning over the sink, watching in horror as puffy, wet eyes turned to look at the newcomer. “Get out!” he yelled, shutting the door in Hoseok’s face.
Hoseok went back downstairs in a daze, shockingly silent as he tried to get Namjoon’s face out of his head. “Okay guys!”
Hoseok watched as this new man came marching down the stairs, a smile painted skillfully onto his face. “Aye! There’s our smart Namjoon! Now teach us History.”
“Of course,” this fake Namjoon responded, this imposter. Hoseok had seen the real Namjoon, or maybe a parallel version of him. The real one was not this cheery, this gleeful…this lively.
This wasn’t right.
“Actually,” Hoseok spoke up, catching Namjoon’s attention again. Even though he was staring at the man that had seen him in this dark state, his face gave away nothing. “Uhm, I have some notes from the unit that Johnny gave me. She’s not here because, well, she’s amazing but here I got it.” Hoseok took the notes out of his bag and started explaining, leaving Namjoon to fall into the background.
“Uh,” Namjoon started, stopping Hoseok on his way out. He was the last one to leave. “Thanks for the notes. It made everything a lot easier.”
Hoseok smiled back at him, wishing his own smile was not, also, the works of an imposter. “That’s my job.”
It was both of their jobs.
“Are you alright?” Tae asked, watching as Hobi anger-tapped the counter, waiting on his oven-made creation. “You already made breakfast,” Tae looked down at his nearly empty plate, chewing on a piece of watermelon. “What else are you making?”
“Nothing for you,” Hobi snapped, causing the whole table to snap back in full attention. Jin, Yoongi, Jimin, Tae, and Kookie looked at each other, trying to communicate with their eyes their concern. Hobi watched them do this, rolling his own eyes in unconcern. Finally, the timer went off and Hobi rushed to the oven, opening it and taking out a rack of biscuits. “Perfect.” He turned swiftly back to the table of friends and said, “Now get out.”
They looked around, wondering if they were the ones being talked to. Hobi’s response was, “Yes, you. Now get out.”
Rolling her eyes, Yoongi got up and walked out. The others quickly followed, going upstairs. Hobi fanned the biscuits with his hands before transferring them to a large plate next to the cookies he had bought. He grabbed the glass of lemonade and placed it on the counter, transferring everything to the table and waiting patiently. As soon as the door opened, Hobi stood up, watching as Joon came in in his coat and suit, dropping his suitcase as he looked around frantically. He had just come back from meeting a patient—the one exception to their deal. “Hobi, what’s wrong?” Namjoon asked, walking over to him. Before he could get much closer, Hobi held up the plate and said, “Cookie?” Joon stopped, staring at the plate. “Or a biscuit? They’re fresh, just out of the oven.”
Joon, about to take one, thought better of it once he realized who he was dealing with. “Hobi, what is this about? Why am I here? You called me and said there was an emergency.”
“Sit down,” Hobi said.
Joon sighed. “Look, I don’t have time—”
“Sit,” Hobi grabbed Joon’s shoulders and forced him into a chair. “…Down.” Joon was still stiff as he sat, his eyebrows lowered as Hobi grabbed a biscuit and placed his other hand under it for crumbs, moving it towards Namjoon’s mouth. “Say ‘ah.’”
“I’m not doing that.”
Hobi sulked but said, “Okay,” as he put the bread back down. He was trying to figure out how to start this; even though thinking of the right words was something he was good at, when it came to Joon, he never had the right words…and maybe he would start with that.
“Do I help you, Joon?” Hobi asked, leaning on the table. “Like when you’re down, do I pick you up?” Hobi meant it as a rhetorical question, never expecting Joon to answer it so willingly.
And never expecting him to say, “No.” Joon shook his head, his eyes never leaving Hobi…because he needed him to know this. “And I know you try, God, I know you try but…” Joon sniffed, not wanting to tear up again. He had done far too much of that lately. “…Let’s be honest, when it comes to me…the reason you make the effort is because you have to. You don’t have to make the effort for Jimin o-or Tae or Jin because their problems aren’t as convoluted as mine. Hobi, I know this…but I don’t think I have anyone else…and I know that you don’t either.” Hobi was about to speak on that, but Joon stopped him. “Hobi, I know you talk to the others about stuff…and that you hide stuff from me.” Joon didn’t realize how scared he would be to say what came next, grabbing Hobi’s hand as he did. “…But you want to talk to me, right?” Hobi smiled at his friend…
…making it so much harder to say, “No, Joon,” Hobi said. “I don’t want to talk to you about this stuff—” Hobi made sure to talk quickly before Joon could retract his hand, holding it firmly. “—because you don’t need to hear it. You worry about every single person in this house, along with the house itself and everything it stands on. Joon, I don’t want you to stop talking to me, I never wanted that. I just want you to start taking my advice, my real advice, the advice I actually want to give. For instance, stop spoiling everyone in the house.” Joon looked away, knowing it was true. “You work too hard, you’re too good for that.” Namjoon, surprisingly, just nodded.
“Okay, fine,” he muttered, leaning on the table. Seeing him like this, Hobi held out his arms and said, “Come here.”
Joon fell into them happily, his muscles tensing around Hobi and vice versa. There was comfort there again, not hostility, and definitely not pain. “Sometimes I want to stay here—” Joon meant Hobi’s arms. “—forever,” he admitted, voice muffled by Hobi’s jacket. Hobi didn’t let go, then, agreeing with the statement, “Me neither.”
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