of secret notes and secret smiles
(I don’t mind if this emotion is what they call love,
and I don’t care if I get hurt by it.
I just want to tell you, over and over again,
I want to reach you.)
There is a certain chill in the air of Kyungsoo’s large bedroom, it makes his toes curl under the sheets, and with a groan, he wakes up. The servants have already pulled apart the heavy velvet curtains, allowing the soft morning light to filter into the room. Kyungsoo dutifully rolls out of bed, and sits on the edge for a while, his muscles aching to catch up with his routine.
There’s a schedule on his bedside table, morning tea, and on the dresser a few feet away are his clothes and a basin of water. A regular day.
It is another mundane day, some day of the week he does not bother to know which. Days have blended together for him anyway, always starting the day with practices, lectures, and studies. Save for the days that he has to attend parties and gatherings whenever his father can’t or refuses to, and Kyungsoo stands as a poor substitute. He’s never been one of those who can keep up a façade well, and in his father’s circle of peers and acquaintances, appearances had always been top priority. He has to work hard every time.
Kyungsoo vaguely remembers spending a whole day in leisure. He doesn't remember when was the last time he went to town to buy flowers or sweets. Kyungsoo has only been twenty for a few weeks, but it feels like he's never had the chance to be young.
His stomach lurches and he doesn't understand why. He slides through the drawing room as a shortcut to the library. Junmyeon is already on his seat, poring over ancient looking scrolls. He sits opposite the older man and smiles.
“Good morning to you.” Junmyeon jumps at the sound of his voice, dropping the scrolls, and this makes Kyungsoo laugh heartily. He reaches down to pick up the scroll for Junmyeon and upon closer inspection, it sort of looked like a map. Geography today, then. It’s fine, Kyungsoo says to himself. Geography isn’t that bad. One day, when he’s done with all the lessons and the practices, he’ll be able to leave the confines of his father’s mansion, travel the country, explore the world, and see what it has to offer. Books tell stories about faraway places, and Kyungsoo wants to see them for himself, touch them, and experience them.
He couldn’t do that while he's stuck in the library. His gaze shifts to the books of medicine, history, and even foreign languages piled and sorted accordingly on bookshelves taller than the grand gazebo in their garden. Kyungsoo is fine with this. At least books have always accompanied him on lonely nights. At least books gave him knowledge and a little freedom, when his father couldn’t, insistent on cooping himself in his laboratory.
“Young Master,” his tutor says, pulling him out of a stupor. He’s not usually like this, he’s usually more alert and focused on geography and all. Not thinking about how lonely it is in this big mansion, even with all the servants scampering about. “Are you feeling well?”
“Never the better, Junmyeon,” he smiles half-heartedly. “I apologize for my shortcomings. I have just realized I haven’t eaten my breakfast yet.”
Junmyeon’s face turns pale, and he visibly panics. “Young Master, you mustn’t miss breakfast! You need energy to be able to do your schedules today. I will call in a servant and we shall continue lectures after you’ve had your fill.”
“Don’t fret, please.” Kyungsoo pulls his tutor back down on his chair by the sleeves of his coat. Junmyeon’s wearing something fancier than his robes today, perhaps he’s going to town later with Wufan. It makes Kyungsoo smile. “I shall eat after one more chapter of this book. I’m quite interested how people navigated location by using constellations as guides.” Junmyeon is worrisome, careful, yet easy to persuade. Kyungsoo looks at him pleadingly and he stops whatever he was about to say. With a resigned sigh, he says, “Very well. However you are to eat and drink your supplements. Wufan will be very upset with you if he finds out.”
“He wouldn’t find out, Junmyeon.” He says reassuringly.
And Wufan doesn’t. Or perhaps he did, with the way he caught Wufan and Junmyeon whispering to themselves with stern faces in the hallway, Junmyeon could have told on him. He could have easily stayed and eavesdropped but Sunyoung was very strict with regards to their practice.
Dance lessons are the worst. Sunyoung is a great teacher, has taught him for as long as he can remember, however he can’t ever be fond of dancing. Kyungsoo’s feet are beginning to ache as he puts them on. Why couldn’t he be as tall as Wufan so he wouldn’t be wearing such shoes? Wufan’s height is just imposing enough that during parties, people would discreetly try to avoid socializing with him even though he would be a head taller. Alas, Kyungsoo is only around Junmyeon's height, maybe even taller if he deludes himself.
With daydreaming during practices comes great consequences. Kyungsoo trips on his own two feet, causing Sunyoung and Junmyeon to scramble towards him. "Young Master, are you hurt?" Junmyeon helps him up and out of his shoes, shoos him away into his room to rest. So it’s not much of a consequence. "It's fine, you can be done with your lessons today. You need to rest before dinner comes."
Kyungsoo doesn't pass up on the break, deciding on whether to take a nap or snack when he gets there. A strong scent of flowers hit him and he gawks at the abundance of roses on his bedside table. They’re lovely and Kyungsoo thinks nothing more of it when a maid rolls in a tray with a wide array of afternoon snacks.
Day after day, the roses sit by his bedside table. It takes Kyungsoo a week or so later to try and inspect the flowers. They seem synthetic to Kyungsoo. Roses aren’t meant to last for days, much less a week. And they couldn’t be as fresh as they are like they were newly picked. When Kyungsoo carefully picks a rose, there are no thorns. It’s been conveniently cut. Could these flowers be recently from the garden?
He waits another week, and the roses keep coming. Thrilled by the flowers, Kyungsoo grabs a piece of paper. Kyungsoo’s tried catching whoever puts the roses in his room but he never manages to do so. He asks Wufan who's incharge of the display of flowers in the mansion, and with a stern look, he asks Kyungsoo what’s wrong.
“You don’t like it?”
"No, no. It's just that, the roses are lovely. And they don't have any thorns."
There’s an odd pause before Wufan smiles, and it's probably the first time in a while since Kyungsoo's seen him do that. The last time was when Kyungsoo turned twenty and Wufan handed him his name day gift. There was also another time when he passed by unoffically by the library and saw Wufan and Junmyeon talking in hushed whispers, exchange small smiles.
He watches Wufan close the door to his room before he begins to write a note. Wufan’s never been one to snip off thorns just for the sake of the roses being displayed. They’re being admired from a far, not to be touched by human hands. And Wufan is too meticulous a person to cut the thorns too amateurly. It’s someone else, Kyungsoo’s sure of it, he just needs to find out who.
Finding the right words to say, even in a small note seems so hard.
Good evening, No. Hello? Greetings?
Thank you for the lovely flowers.
I would like to know who you are and express my heartfelt gratitude to you in person.
P.S. Though the flowers are lovely, it would be nice if they lived longer in the fields than in my room. One last flower would be enough if you ever plan on sending me more.
He feels ridiculous, and he laughs at himself. Kyungsoo doesn't expect to come back to his quarters again the next day to see the note gone and a single flower, this time a white rose, on his bed.
Kyungsoo anxiously waits for a reply that night, gnawing on his dinner absentmindedly, thinking unnecessarily about what if Wufan took the note and hid it. He saw it happen once before, when his mother was still alive. She was writing a letter to her friend, she explained to him, and she left it unfinished on the table to request for snacks. Kyungsoo had been left in the room, and even if he was still very young, he remembered how rage surfaced from his father’s face when he came in and read the letter before he tore the letter into shreds. However, Wufan is nice and very attentive of his needs. He wouldn’t do that. Would he?
Afternoon came, and there were neither letters nor roses. Kyungsoo tries not to hope and think too much of it, but his curiosity has already gotten the better of him. He wants to know who the sender is, how they did it, and why. Why?
Kyungsoo is about to give up three nights after. The excitement being replaced by boredom, and it’s not something worth fussing over. He’s old enough to know his priorities, but he feels like there’s an inner child in him whose curiosity is large enough to consume his thoughts. It’s confirmed when a piece of paper falls out one of his laid out books.
The hand seems familiar, the twists of o’s and the tails of y’s speak too much yet too little to Kyungsoo. Who could this be? The lady from the party a few weeks before? The one who bragged about her hand woven silk dress? Or perhaps the lord who comes bimonthly to their manor for tea? But that man is crude and romantic gestures are beneath him. Kyungsoo sighs.
I am not good at this. At writing. I am glad. Very glad that you like the flowers, Lord Kyungsoo. I should have apologized first before anything else.
Kyungsoo rests his head on his open palm in thought because the note ends there, and Kyungsoo wonders if his mystery sender ran out of ink.
With the way the letter was written, it was by someone who didn’t dwell much on proper grammar. Kyungsoo tries to reply a little informally, he starts by asking for the stranger’s name, subtly insisting it was rude to not introduce themselves while they knew Kyungsoo’s name. The stranger replies the next day, the note tucked in between Kyungsoo’s new book.
Jongin. It says. That’s all it says. Kyungsoo pulls out stationeries and writes longer, asks the stranger—Jongin questions, generic ones, fills the page until there’s barely any space for his name.
The next letter from Jongin comes a day shy of a week, it’s shorter than Kyungsoo’s but longer than Jongin’s previous letter. It’s embarrassing to tell, the letter says. I am not someone noteworthy. I am only a servant in your home, my lord.
What brought you to do this? Kyungsoo writes back.
I saw a portrait of you. Kyungsoo tucks the note away, putting it in a little box on his bedside table. You looked lonely.
Kyungsoo doesn’t write back until a few nights later when Junmyeon knocks on his door. “There’s a note tucked in the book. Perhaps this is yours?”
Kyungsoo’s eyes widen and hastily pulls the paper from Junmyeon’s hands. “Thank you.”
“Jongin…” Junmyeon starts, eyes looking at anything besides Kyungsoo. “How did you know about him?” Kyungsoo doesn’t respond, letting lapses of silence fill the air. Junmyeon sighs dejectedly, apologizes and turns to leave.
Jongin is Kyungsoo’s secret. His mystery. His…friend? Is it too early to call him that? Nonetheless, Kyungsoo’s old enough to make friends of his choosing. Status does not really matter to Kyungsoo. What matters to him, is not something you can grasp physically with your hands.
Their exchange continues. Kyungsoo doesn’t try to catch Jongin slipping in his room, letting the thrill drive him not to. Kyungsoo asks, however, how Jongin manages to sneak in without Wufan knowing, because Wufan, as the head butler in the mansion would know everything. Instead, Jongin tells him a story about flowers, and how there was once a beautiful flower in the garden who was the envy of all the other flowers. She was small but had petals that were vibrant as the sun. She bloomed all year long except in winter when she sleeps, unlike other flowers who die. The envious flowers plotted against her. And on the last day of Autumn, she’s already fallen into deep sleep. It was their only chance before they died, and so they cut her petals and ripped her wonderful leaves, and laughed as winter came. Jongin tells him that when the flower woke up on the first day of spring, she screamed when she realized what had happened to her. The other flowers laughed at her and mocked her because she was no longer beautiful. She was no longer referred to as a flower, but a weed.
That was a sad story. I don’t like sad stories.
It wasn’t sad, if you think about it. Kyungsoo does think about it. The flower might not be the most beautiful anymore, but it survives through the winter and it’s not something humans might pick, thus shortening it’s lifespan.
Kyungsoo gives him a book, a collection of poems, and in return, Jongin leaves him a charm. It’s a dream catcher. It will capture all your dreams, good and bad. Kyungsoo hides it under his pillow, smiling as he places it there.
They’ve become friends over time, days have blended into weeks, weeks into months. Kyungsoo never misses a day of receiving a reply from Jongin. And Jongin seems to be improving his writing. His script has gotten neater and his words more full and not redundant. Kyungsoo comments on that too, teasingly saying that he’s very proud of him.
We’ve been friends for a while now, Jongin. Let’s meet each other.
We cannot. Wufan will catch us and in addition to that, you are a very busy person and I have to work as well. Please do not ask where I work, because you will “accidentally” stumble to where I am. Do not try to be sly, Kyungsoo.
If we can’t meet, would you enlighten me and feed my curiosity? What do you look like?
I am an average looking person, not too tall, and not too lanky. Very average. What about you?
Kyungsoo is stunned. Stares at the words and it fills his mind like a dam breaking. He’s never bothered with his looks. Junmyeon has always told him he looked handsome, as any lad could ever be. But it’s Junmyeon, it’s a biased opinion. He writes to Jongin that he too is average, at least they had something in common.
I’m sure you’ve seen me before. You can’t miss the giant portraits in the halls.
Jongin doesn’t reply to that, but he leaves a poem for Kyungsoo.
Dearest Kyungsoo, I made you a poem. I hope you enjoy it.
When sea birds cry,
It is possibly time to say goodbye.
Bye to the waters, bye to the shores,
And to the friends we left behind.
But know this; I won’t leave you.
Never would I dare.
When sea birds cry,
We’ll leave together.
Hand in hand.
Kyungsoo slid his hand through the folded letters from Jongin, burying his nose in perfect words woven by mellifluous hands. “I’m in love,” he whispers to himself.
Jongin has found a home in Kyungsoo’s heart through words and it’s scaring Kyungsoo. That someone he’s never met has connected with him, shared his sentiments, interests, and most of all, he understands Kyungsoo. It’s not the right choice, not the most rational of actions, but love, when has love ever been rational? Junmyeon would be upset if he found out, and if it ever reaches Wufan, then he’d be scolded to no end.
Jongin is a servant, a gardener, and Kyungsoo is a young lord, a young lord with no freedom and is bound to his responsibilities. Jongin is free and Kyungsoo is a caged bird singing by the window and watching people be free. But Kyungsoo aches to meet him, despite it all.
He wants to know what Jongin really looks like, if he flushes red when they finally meet, if Jongin’s skin would be warm beneath his fingertips. Wants to know how Jongin would taste like when their lips finally meet.
This might not lead to them running away beneath the stars, sprinting for their lives, or maybe it would. All Kyungsoo knows, feels, is that he needs him. Needs to meet him.
Light is scarce in the room with only one window on the highest side of the wall. Kyungsoo rolls to his side and he notices the damp sweat trickling down his back. But what irks him is his lack of clothing, and the absence of his heavy comforter.
He sits up and scans the room hastily. Everything looks familiar yet always somehow foreign. He was supposed to meet Jongin last night in the garden. Jongin must have taken him here. Although he wasn’t wearing a shirt, and there’s a sticky feeling underneath the pants his wearing, which definitely don’t belong to him.
He doesn’t even remember what happened last night. Did he fall asleep? Did he finally meet Jongin? He tries so hard to put a face to the name in his heart, but all he gets is a headache.
Kyungsoo walks out of the room and hears maids chatting down the hall. He knows he's never been to this place; he doesn't have a vivid recollection of being here. He pads towards the voices and the inaudible chatting turn into words and Kyungsoo stops short before the curb of the hall.
"Did you hear? Lord Do was sick yet again. Yifan carried him outside his laboratory past lights out."
One of the maids nods solemnly. Kyungsoo couldnt make out any of her words but Jongin, she undoubtedly said Jongin's name. "Yes, I was with him. Lord Do was upset at Jongin, that boy really needs to control himself, making his father upset like that."
Kyungsoo gasps. "Father? What do you mean father?"
The maids turn around and gape at him. Their faces are equally painted with shock but then it fades away and they laughed. "Oh, Jongin, it's just you. You scared us. Don't sneak up on us like that."
"Your father fainted last night from over fatigue. You shouldn't be shouting at him especially that late at night, boy."
Kyungsoo tilts his head to the side, unsure if the maids were teasing him or if they are literally mistaking him for Jongin. "I... I would never raise my voice towards Father. We might not see each other often but, I would never dare do that."
Colors drain from their faces and the bowed deeply. "We apologize, young master. We do not mean to offend you or to spread false words."
"Please do not punish us that harshly, young master."
Kyungsoo doesn't punish them, just asks them to hold their tongue if they are not sure that what they speak of is the truth. He asks them to draw his bath and to prepare him a clean set of clothes. It feels odd when he doesn't ask them how to exit the servant's quarters.
When he gets back to his quarters, he spots them in the distance, just below the empty vase, a pile of torn-up letters, his box of letters, scattered everywhere. Me, one piece says, et me, the other says, upstairs, and another one, please.
Kyungsoo runs up the stairs to the attic. He’s been up here a few times before, but the now the old wooden door is unlocked. He steps inside, fear, curiosity, and adrenaline all mixing in the pit of his stomach. Kyungsoo pushes the door open, surprised to see a lamp in the middle of the room. There was nothing in the room but the lamp and the glinting walls.
“Jongin?” He tries. No one answers him, his voice an echo looping inside the room. “Jongin?” Kyungsoo tries again, softly, this time, stalking towards the lamp. He grabs it by the handle and before he could inspect the place, there’s a beautiful boy standing behind the glass in front of him.
Kyungsoo thinks his tan skin looks nice under the soft glow of the lamp. His face though, is impassive, with droopy eyes and not even a slightest of a smile comes when their eyes meet. Kyungsoo looks down and stammers, unsure what to say. He waits for Jongin to ask, if he really is Jongin, but the only sound in the room is Kyungsoo’s short breaths and the pitter pat of the rain. He looks up again, meeting the Jongin’s eyes.
“Hello.” They both say in unison. Kyungsoo laughs, feels ridiculous. And again, “What are you doing here?”
There’s a long pause. Kyungsoo stares wide eyed at him, and he does the same. Their breathing is the same, they blink at the same time. Kyungsoo steps back in fear and so does he. Thoughts of Jongin flood him, fill his mind and it intensifies his fear, draws a giant question mark. “Jongin, he must be Jongin.” But why was Jongin in unison with him? Why are their actions in sync? Fate? Destiny? Coincidence? What sick and twisted fate is this?
He walks towards the glass and so does the boy—Jongin. A flood of images smack Kyungsoo in the face. The letters, the flowers, the beautiful poems. That night.
Kyungsoo's breathing hitches in realization. “Is this… Is this why we can never meet?” They say, pressing their palms on the glass. “Because we’re the same person?”
There is no response, yet Kyungsoo knows the answer. Knows why whenever he dances, his body moves for him, he doesn’t need to think. He knows how Jongin manages to leave letters throughout schedules without them meeting. He knows why when he woke up alone in Jongin’s room a few weeks ago when they were supposed to meet.
Because they weren’t supposed to meet. They already have met. They are the same person.
Tears fall from Kyungsoo’s eyes and in the blurry haze, he breaks the glass with his fist.
The mirror breaks and he hopes he ceases to exist.