[Everlasting Crush’s side story]
“Like two buns in a brown paper bag”
It was still three hours away from dinner time when I decided to stop by at my favorite restaurant who sell the best tasting steamed-bun in this whole neighborhood. I live in a suburban area where everyone knows each other, it’s like living surrounded by families. Every time we pass someone we know in this neighborhood, we have to greet them with at least a smile or a simple “Hello”. I quoted it from my mom, I’m not that nice actually.
“My dear Baozi!”
The owner of this restaurant, Zhang Yixing called the moment I stepped inside while transferring some moon-cakes into a white takeaway box. He’s a young man with warm smile and fatherly aura, at some times he could be really really generous that he gives me some discounts or free foods.
I joined in the queue that has formed behind the order table, plugged in my earphones and waited patiently in the line. After a few minutes of waiting, finally the last costumer in front of me stepped forward and ordered.
“I’ll have five steamed buns.”
She is a girl probably around the same age as me with petite frame and long dark brown wavy hair. She was practically standing on her tip-toes with her hands clutching the edge of the table and head tilted high as if trying to peek inside the kitchen.
“Are you meeting some friends?” I asked out of curiosity.
She turned her head and standing back with her heels again, facing me with a reluctance shading her face. “No.”
“Why do you think that I’m meeting someone?” she tilts her head to the side, studying me.
“Well you did order five steamed buns,” I shrugged.
“It’s all for me.”
Yixing’s head popped from the glass door separating the back kitchen and the order area, holding a huge plate of steaming hot buns. I looked down at the girl in front of me who is now practically drooling at the sight of the piling steamed buns. She’s going to eat five buns all by herself and I find it pretty interesting. She pull out some cash and hugged the brown paper-bang full of buns the moment Yixing handed it to her.
I stepped forward and found Yixing is now staring down at me with a huge grin on his face that it’s a miracle that his cheeks haven’t tore yet. “I’m going to have three steamed buns.”
“Making your first move there, I see,” the goofy grin seemed to be permanent whenever he caught me talking to some girls, which is only happens probably once in a decade. He transferred some white pillowy steaming bread into the brown bag carefully.
I leaned forward and whispered. “She’s eating five buns in one go. That’s nearly abnormal.”
He just chuckled, and shot me a sceptical look as if saying “I know better than that, son.” I could see the girl with the corner of my eye, she’s sitting there by the window with her mouth stuffed to its maximum capacity and both of her hands holding one bun each. Where she storaged all those food inside her miniature body, I have no idea.
“Here,” he offered a paper-bag to me and then added, “This is free if you sit there with the lady.”
A loud sigh escaped my mouth and I gave up. The only reason I’m doing this is because of my strictly limited allowance, so yes I need to save the littlest money I could save due to stay alive and well feed for the rest of the month. I walked towards her table with Yixing’s amused stare boring the back of my head. As I placed my paper-bag down in front of her she looked up as if I have popped her little bubble of happiness.
“Do you mind if I uhm?” I pointed at the chair and she nodded after studying me from head to toe back to head again.
After gluing my ass down, we both eat in silence. Not the awkward or deafening kind of silence, more like the silence of two people enjoying their own alone-time but happens to sit at the same table. I’m sitting here just two paper-bags away from frankly the most amazing creature God has ever invented, and I can feel the steamed buns is a little softer and the filling is a little sweeter than usual.
She jolted to her feet abruptly after popping the last piece of bun into her mouth. She bowed a little before saying, “I need to go now.”
I looked at her helplessly, I really want to ask her something but my mouth is still full with food and like my mom said, rule number one, don’t talk when you’re mouth is full. She was about to walk away when I unconsciously grabbed her wrist, startling her a little. I gestured her to wait a little while I tried to swallow a big lump of food down my throat. “Can I know your name?”
She looked a little hesitant at first. “Ha Seyeon,” she finally answered after deciding that I looked way too harmless to be some kind of serial killer. She bolted away quickly, probably scared I’ll hold her back again.
Later on, I drove back home with this weird feeling clinging in my chest.
That night my mom called me to come down half an hour before our usual dinner time, I did as instructed went down and found my mom stacking dozens of plastic containers filled with any kind of side dishes into a big basket. The whole house smells like broiling fish broth that I started to wonder why people didn’t make perfume or aromatic candles with the scent of Fish Broth instead of flowers and fruits.
“Deliver this to Ms. Hwang, her daughter from the City is paying a visit and I’m not sure if she could cook a decent meal for her.”
Ms. Hwang has gotten herself into a car accident a few days ago and now she’s using wheel-chair to transport herself around, and it’s a tricky deed. Lately my mom has been cooking dinner and lunch for her as well. I’ve heard a lot about her daughter but I’ve never met her in person before. My mom used to tell me stories about how we could’ve been good friends if she didn’t move to the City with her dad after her parents’ divorce. But I have never thought her as a real person before, like she was not more than a myth all along.
The ringing sound of the doorbell echoed behind the big white wooden door, I can hear a growing sound of footsteps nearing the door and I’m pretty sure that it’s Ms. Hwang’s daughter’s because wheel-chair doesn’t make tapping noises. The handle clicked open, revealing a familiar girl standing at the other side of the door-frame. Petite and gorgeous. Ha Seyeon.
“You’re uhm Ha Seyeon, right?” my voice is filled with uncertainty.
“The one and only,” she chanted. “And you must be…”
“Kim Minseok.” I extended a hand and she welcomed it.
She arched her pointy brows, forming a knot. “But the man back at the restaurant called you Baozi.”
“That’s my second name.”
“What should I call you then?”
“Okay Either Or, what brings you here?” a small laugh slipped out from her mouth, light and cheerful. It’s amazing how this shy and rigid girl could turn into this sun-bright person laughing in front of me.
“It’s either Minseok or Baozi, not literally Either Or,” I pinched her nose playfully.
Her laugh ebbed into a small chuckle as her eyes spotted the basket I’m holding. “Oh here, it’s from my mother.”
She took over the basket and take a peek, her eyes intantly light up in joy. “You’re godsend, you know that?” she patted my shoulder firmly. I smiled at the pleasant feeling rushing along with my blood as I watch her hand fall back to her sides.
“Can I have your number?” Something must’ve been hacking my brain because Kim Minseok usually don’t go around asking for stranger’s phone number, let a lone a girl’s phone number. But she’s not like any other girl I’ve known in my whole life, she did eat 5 steamed buns in one go right? Maybe that’s the reason I want to keep in touch with this magical human-being. And anyway she’s not a complete stanger anymore.
“I’m not a serial killer,” a little smile blossomed on her face. The way I look at it, swapping number with her won’t get us into any bloody trouble because I’m just a walking, talking and breathing baozi while she’s pretty much the girl version of me (just a bit more attractive, but there’s no way I’m going to say that out loud).
She dictated a set of number while I saved it in my contact list. “Sorry for being so rigid earlier, you know with all that rules about strangers and stuff. I just don’t want to be the next Littel Red Riding Hood,” she showed me a clear view of her straight teeth that looked more like little pearls in this dim lightling. “But now that we’re neighbours, I guess we could be friends.”
I nodded, can’t trust myself to speak because I might blurted out something out of place or sounded overly ecstatic. We bid each other good night a moment later and I walked home with lighter steps.
That night I saved her number in speed dial. Number 5.
A loud banging on the front door snapped me out from my dreamless sleep early in the morning. No one in my family is a morning person, so I decided to just go down stairs and answer it myself wondering why the newspaper delivery guy has to be rumbustious today. Turns out it’s not the newspaper guy at all, it’s Ha Seyeon who is standing here at my doorstep with a big basket in her hands.
She shoved the basket to my hands. The plastic container is now filled with cereals in multiple colours and I chuckled. “Mommy’s basic rule, never return empty containers.”
“Whoa your mom really did a good job putting you through the 101 basic manner training.”
She pulled something from her sling bag, a DVD. I raised my eyebrows. “Let’s watch this together, I’ve been wanting to watch this movie with the right person all along.” She paused as if realising that her words sounded a little too flirtatious. “I mean this is a nice movie and you’re a nice person, so why not?” she clarified with and awkward chuckle.
So there I have it, a movie night with Ha Seyeon. I would’ve been happier if I could pick the movie, because she picked Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs as tonight’s show. I really wanted to watch horror movie with her, no apparent reason actually (aside from there’s a bigger chance that she would get scared and hug me).
Eight p.m right on the dot Ha Seyeon showed up on my doorstep for the second time in a day with a layers of butter-yellow blanket draped around her. My mom has disappeared into her room to watch some old dramas, but makes sure to throw me a “Our Minseokkie likes a girl~” look before went upstairs. What can I say, mommy knows best.
“Popcorns?” I offered as she slumped down at the foamy couch in the living room.
“I’m more of a nacho kind of girl,” she paused. “With extra cheese sauce.”
After reheating a heaping bowl of nacho chips with exta squirts of cheese sauce (as requested), I sat down next to her only a few layers of blankets separating us. She munched down the chips at the first fifteen minutes of the movie, and I have to admit that I enjoyed watching her eat a little more than I enjoyed the movie itself. She eventually falls asleep even before half of the movie, her head is dangling low from her neck and a curtain of brown hair is blocking my view to her face. I don’t know what keeps me up until the cast list and credits is all over, maybe it’s the warm heart-fluttering sensation in my chest or maybe it’s the pleasant twisting sensation deep in my stomach.
“Wake up. Ha Seyeon, wake up.” I shook her shoulders with no avail, she stirred a little but drfited back to sleep a moment later. “Ha Seyeon this was all your idea and now you’re the one sleeping like–”
Her head falls on my lap, shutting me up effectively. I looked down at her, and I lifted my hands to her cheek tucking strands of hair behind her ears. The bright neon blue light from the TV screen illuminated her face and I realised that I don’t have the heart to wake her up. I don’t know when and I don’t know how but I eventually fall asleep as the night went deeper and deeper. We end up spending the night on my couch, her head on my lap and my back straight against the back-rest of the couch, just like that until the crack of dawn bundled in a big butter-yellow blanket.
Time really flies (with a jetpack) when I’m with Seyeon. Five days felt like five minutes and good-bye is undeniable at the end. Seyeon has to go back to relive her life at the City as a student in one of the most prestigious college in Seoul. I have never been a big fan of good-byes but this one felt different. It’s so hard that it feels like saying good-bye to my right hand.
In five days I have grown more and more attached to her that I can’t even imagine my life before she came in. We talked about why the North Koreans were obsessed over nuclear and all those explosive stuff when black bean noodles and fish cakes booth could make a fat number of profit in instance. We also played housecards with nacho chips which always ended with us eating everything on the table until the very last bits of scraps. We never did anything nobled and we never talked about anything important, we’re just being us. But that’s the best part of being friend with Ha Seyeon, for the first time in forever Kim Minseok could really be Kim Minseok.
I tried not to let my feelings involved into this friendship, but the acrobatic elephant in my stomach can’t stop playing hula-hoops whenever we touched or whenever she unconsciously said something a little flirtatious.
She dragged her suitcase on the rough pavement and I helped her load her belongings into the cab’s trunk.
“I’ll call. And text. Anything,” my voice came out a little shakier than I intended it to be.
“It was a pleasure knowing you, bun-boy.”
“Same here, nacho-girl.”
We both laughed a little, but then her laugh halted abruptly as if she’s done pretending. The next thing I know is she stormed forward and circled her arms around me, her head dug deep on my shoulder. “I’m going to miss you,” she was talking against my shirt, her words muffled but somehow I can hear her crystal clear, like it wasn’t my ears who catch her words but something else covered in layers and layers of doubt and fear of knowing. This little part of me who has always uncosciously craving for her, but I kept on denying because I’m a coward, I can’t even put my feelings into words. For my own sake, I want her to know but I don’t want to say it out loud.
She stepped back hesitantly, her eyes glossy under the morning sun as a shade of tears coat her black irises. I pull her back into my embrace, no “I’m going to miss you to” or “We’ll keep in touch” because at this moment, word felt empty. Hollow. Breakable. At this point, hugging her back felt a lot more realer. The cab driver honked twice and we broke off. She hastily straighten her shirt as scurried towards the cab, plopped down into the passanger’s back seat.
I smiled and she returned it. I waved and she returned it. But I’m aware that she can’t return this one, this soft yet very solid feeling nesting in my chest. It wouldn’t work because I don’t believe in long distance relationship and all those craps that come next.
Two days is all it takes for me to realise how much I miss my crooked neighbor. Our texts only make me feel like she’s seriously far away, and she began to fade into a myth all over again. I started to loose my appetite, because everything didn’t taste as good as usual. They say, good friends and good food are inseparable. I’ve learned that saying the hard way.
One afternoon, I texted Chanyeol and asked him whether we wants to play some video games or no. He said that he has to cover his freind’s shift for an extra hour so I decided to accompany him. Chanyeol is my childhood best-friend until we attended different college and Chanyeol started to take part-time jobs to fill up his wallet while I stayed at home helping my mom with chores, trusting my wallet wholly to my monthly allowance. The coffee shop he is working is just a few miles away from my house. My friend is dating one of the workers here but I don’t know the guy personally, she never really mentioned a name just a ‘this guy I really like from high-school‘ everytime she talks about her so-called crush.
I pushed the door and Chanyeol’s lips formed a bright toothy smile as he opened his arms wide, offering a best-buddy cuddle session we used to have as a kid. “I’d rather not,” I raised my hands and his hands fell limply as his smile melted into a deep pout. “Come on buddy, don’t take it seriously.” I patted his shoulders and his a hundred watt smile’s back, just as simple as that. And that’s exactly why I always run to Chanyeol whenever I have any problems.
“Hey you look different,” he took a seat in one of the chairs. “Don’t bottle up your feelings inside, just spit it out already.”
I sighed and took a seat in front of him, he probably noticed my dark eye sockets and my half-hearted smile. Chanyeol stood up just to flip the ‘OPEN’ sign on the door, he might get expelled for this but at this point his priority is me. I have always been on the top list of his prioroty scale since the day I let him borrow my toy car back at kindergarten.
Inhale. I told him everything, from out first encounter ang then the night when we both found out that she was my long lost naighbor all along, the night we watched movie together and how we spent the night and I top it off with the goodbye. Exhale.
“She must’ve been one hell of a girl that she could flip you up side down like this. I mean, seriously the last time a saw you this fucked up was the night when your mother went to town and has to delay her arrival for two days because of some unexpected complications. And man, that was ten freaking years ago. You peed in your pants as you cry so damn hard that I can’t make out which one is pee and which one’s tears.” Chanyeol responded with a hundred different expression came by crossing his face.
I managed to let out a shaky laugh. “Maybe I haven’t change much in ten years.”
“Or maybe, she’s hella great that I think you really need to go get her,” he spread his arms to the air.
“I have a better theory, we should live our lives and move on.”
Chanyeol walked towards the door and flipped the ‘CLOSED’ sign, turned to me with a knowing look. “Just saying, if I were in your shoes and I found that other half of me like you did. I’ll fight ninjas for her.”
“Ninjas are not that hard.”
“Fine. Ninjas with bazookas.”
I don’t have classes until 10 a.m so I spent my entire morning rollong back and forth on my bed, sausaged myself under my wolf printed covers as my mind spins like a sugar-rushed whirl-wind. Suddenly my phone buzzed, I freed my self from my wrapper and reached for the buzzing phone. It’s Chanyeol, once again trying his best shot to convince me to not let Seyeon go, I typed a quick “Forget it Chanyeol” before opened my Instagram account.
I only followed a few of my closest friends and numerous of food bloggers. There’s this one really awesome account that keep me updated around new good restaurants and stuff. This account posted something about a newly opened Mexican restaurant just a bus stop away from my little town, the pictures of burritos on my phone screen is like calling me to pick them up and eat them. So I make my mind to go there for lunch after my first class.
Professor Kim has this ability to bore people to death with his monotone lecture. So after he collapsed on his wooden chair that creaked in protest, I took off running with my car keys on hand. Some nice meal could do some good for my unstable slash lovesick state of mind. Spurring my car a hair-stretch above the speed limit, I finally make it there just in time for lunch.
The food bloggers wasn’t joking, even the smell could wiggle my taste-buds causing my stomach to churn. I observe the whole area to find an empty seat, but it looks like I’m not the only one craving for Mexican food this afternoon, like basically the whole restaurant is a massive queue. At the far corner of the restaurant near the bathroom, my eyes catch a sight of her. Her. Ha Seyeon. She is basically burying herself behind a big bowl of nachos with extra cheese sauce on top.
Not even a dash of hesitation tingled in my mind when I made my way past the busy crowds to the only girl in this world that could wipe clean five steamed buns and a big bowl of nachos in one stop without gaining some weight. I was five tables away when my phone buzzed, for sure it was Chanyeol still hitting his luck on convincing me to go get a girlfriend, but this time I don’t need his words, because I know I need one. This one. The one.
“Do you mind if I uhm?”
She looked up with a piece of chips hanging, half eaten on her lips. And then she broke out, laughing as she gestured me to sit down. “Some kind of deja vu isn’t it?”
“Well poeple with the same interest always found their way back, aren’t they?”
“Oh joy, we’re replaying a few weeks old history.”
I plucked my hands into the bowl and shoved a handful of chips into my mouth. “The line is taking forever, can I just eat with you? You have food enough to solve the hunger problems in Kenya here.”
She laughed heartily on my lame joke and nodded. “Yeah yeah, just eat it. Anyway, why would people eat nachos with salsa? Like, those salty chips goes great enough with cheese sauce that Alexander The Great have to admit that this little heavens are greater than him as a whole,” she slid a little bowl of salsa to me with a disgusted face.
“But nachos are meant to be eaten with salsa.” I dipped my chips into the colourful and fragrant salsa.
“Yeah but we’re here for the greater goods,” she rolled her eyes.
“For me it’s you.” She lifted her gaze to meet mine, we both stopped chewing our food. “It’s you, above cheese sauce and steamed buns. I have to say this,” I closed my eyes. “I think I might like you. More than a friend.”
I peeked a little, finding Seyeon sitting there just one bowl away from me, smiling. “Same here, bun-boy.”
It was a very much simple confession. Confession in its simplest form. But I don’t mind, we both know more than words can express than we fit each other like two buns in a brown paper-bag, like nacho and cheese sauce. We might be the most food-centered couple in this world but who cares, we’re being ourselves and that’s the best part of this relationship.
There’s a bead of cheese sauce dripping from the edge of her mouth and I let it be, for now.
I’ll wipe it off for her at our next date.
a/n : I know this one is a little crappy, like ugh failure. The next one shot is about Chanyeol (as expected) and I’m still not sure whether it’ll be up in a flash or no. Depends on the inspiration. Anyway, I really hope that you guys don’t mind if I ask you to leave traces of breadcrumbs here! Thank you!