“Thank you for tonight. It was…” and the shorter man’s gestures were cut short as he stood there, thinking hard as to what kind of sign he should make next as to finish his sentence. LJ was optimistic he would execute this right since sign language isn’t really that difficult to study with repetitive practice, only that his own persistent repetition still didn’t come up as near as expected when he was frozen in confusion on what he should add following the first few gestures he already made.
What he was thinking of however, didn’t come from him, neither through sign or verbal that was made by his own body but instead, was uttered by the man he was supposed to say it to with Scoups fixing his mask on his face with a lopsided grin his client almost jumped into because of how deep the inclining dimple is on the man’s cheek, tempting him to just go for it. LJ was only shaken out of his trance when the otherwise impaired Night Companion of his repeated his offered words, and he did it with his own hands as well to help the small, lost man who obviously needs help. LJ’s effort was nonetheless appreciated.
“It was good?” suggested Scoups in which LJ shook his head, making him lose his grin at.
“…It wasn’t good?”
“Well, how do you say it was great in sign language, Scoups?”
A few hand movements, some finger-action that seemed to do the trick before Scoups said: “Like that.”
“Thank you. Then it was…” and LJ does the exact same thing. Or so he thought because Scoups, the man he was thanking let out a short chuckle.
“You were just waving your hands around. Hehe.”
“No, I wasn’t! I just said it was great.” insisted the smaller man although it’s not hard to miss the way his still flushed lips quirk on both sides, desperate to keep down as they naturally move up to form what Scoups can bet to be a smile.
“Then can you say this again?”
Scoups repeated the similar sign language of ‘It was great.’ to his stubborn client claiming he knows what he’s doing.
“It’s quite simple, sir.”
“It is simple so I’m not going to do it again!” LJ insisted and with that universal gesture of swinging his fingers back and forth that clearly say ‘go away.’
“Would you like me to teach you?”
“No!” the smaller interjected. “I believe I won’t be needing that kind of knowledge since you can read lips, am I right?”
Scoups nipped his lower lip and nodded in defeat. LJ does have a point if he says so himself since the man is not at all deaf so using that kind of communication isn’t really necessary especially with his line of work because let’s remember that there’s no point of learning sign language for the deaf and mute if you make music for a living. There’s a guarantee that the deaf community isn’t an avid fan of music although that didn’t come as a reason for Scoups to still avail a random album his client’s studio has produced.
“See? I told you!”
Arguing with a client is very wrong and that’s something Scoups has learned throughout the span of ten years working in retail stores. He can’t express his own thoughts well and that there is definitely no point if you’re on the wrong side of a debate and right now, he is exactly there against LJ who makes a good reason behind studying what he won’t benefit from. Scoups just had to accept the ‘customer is always right’ saying even if LJ is indeed right at that moment.
Scoups was then led like the first time before, out of the bedroom, passed through the hallway and down the stairs where his bag is waiting. And like before, he was given a chance to freshen up at what he supposes to be the guest bathroom, taking a shower and getting into his uniform that inly needs his nametag as a final touch but otherwise is just a matching pair of a black shirt and black pants. Scoups just had to put his mask back on as per the conditions he made with his client who was waiting for him by the couch he sat on more than a week ago. LJ, standing tall for his otherwise short height in some expensive-looking bathrobes with his hands tucked behind his back.
“Are you okay?” asked the client to his Night Companion closing in on him and to his backpack he left sitting on the large chair.
“I am, sir. Yes.” Scoups replied with a nod. “But I have to be going now because I have a shift in an hour and I’m running late.”
LJ should’ve known better than to stall his Night Companion with an unnecessary inquiry but his mouth was too quick before his mind even get to keep it shut as he asks with quite the interest: “Oh, yeah? Where are you working?”
“At a Samgyeopsal restaurant in Itaewon, sir LJ. Would you like to pay a visit? We serve the best bee- ”
“ –Some other time perhaps, Scoups. But for now, you should get a cab since you said you’re running late. Take this-”
Call it embarrassment or perhaps Scoups just being humble but when his client offers him some cash, crispy and by the looks of it, freshly withdrawn from a nearby ATM LJ must’ve prepared beforehand, he quickly refused it and like his client indeed, stubborn at it, Scoups insists on taking the bus instead but as stubborn as he can get, his client is even more so and even behind that tilted mask of his, LJ can still glare back at Scoups to make him take the tip he was given, except that it wasn’t his tip just yet when LJ hums:
“I’ll send in your bonus in a few, okay? I guess what you have there can take you as far as Itaewon with a cab , maybe even farther if you want to. Hehe-”
Scoups just blinks back at LJ, speechless of this kind of generosity he hasn’t had for as long as he can remember and if he’s being honest, is not worth it but LJ seems to think otherwise to offer him a smile with it too, in turn making Scoups smile back as well.
“A- are you sure?”
“Don’t I look sure?” LJ answered. “But you should put that in your wallet or something. I can’t say you’re safe with that in your hands.”
A bit flustered at it, Scoups only got to nod at LJ before he was doing what he was suggested to. And frankly, LJ find it too cute that his own Night Companion reminds him more of a puppy than an actual man who should be at least a bit more dominant, a bit more confident and not so Seungcheol-like because the man has an odd resemblance to his ex he suddenly remembers from his antics, his behavior and with the way he lowers his head whenever he feels a bit too shy on certain things. Scoups also has a lot of physical similarities but then again, LJ can’t say much about it because even he gets confused whenever he sees a random idol’s face he sometimes can’t distinguish who from who especially on large gatherings so the gummy smile, the beauty mark on his neck, and what he thinks to be the natural gentle response, all of these are just some minor coincidence one shouldn’t dwell too much on.
The wallet Scoups dropped because of how jumpy he is from the amount he was given that doesn’t happen to be his tip for his service tonight just yet however, now that can make some brows raise in suspicion, not because it slips off Scoups’ grasp because that can be deduced as an accident, what is inside it can’t exactly be one since out of LJ’s effort to help his supposed tired Night Companion, it was him who picked the fallen synthetic leather case scraping by the crease where it was folded as evidence of how worn out it is and with it, isn’t doing its one job right that caused some of the items inside to slip out of, well, most of the items considering there’s not much inside it to begin with, a few notes, some receipts that look like a year old and a single picture crumpled and old but is forced to fit the otherwise cramped size of the wallet Scoups has. It was surprising how the picture didn’t fade but it is beginning to and so as the note the black ink it was written with, hazing against the grayish film.
Of all the things Scoups reached for as he cleans up the mess his obsolete wallet dropped, it was the single picture there he took first, sliding it into his pocket as he continuously apologizes and repeatedly bows his head as to prevent any form of scolding he might receive from LJ but the man didn’t say anything. In fact, his client didn’t say anything at all and kept his mouth shut, his expression blank and his hands balled to fists what Scoups took as a sign of annoyance and so as his cue to leave the premises and head to Itaewon as he was supposed to, bowing goodbye at his generous and kind client before anything else although no response came from LJ.
As the large door was closed shut, the automatic digital lock clicking in place with a click a host could take as his privacy restored, a privacy of peace and quiet Jihoon was expecting he would have but instead, was replaced with an unfamiliar urge of unwanted curiosity because as much as he wants to take a bath and recover from his limping state his Night Companion had him into, that relaxing dip into his tub can wait, not when there is a far more pressing matter he can no longer delay since the chances of finding out someone has a picture of a loved one in his wallet is slim, the chances of finding a somewhat familiar picture in some stranger’s wallet is by far slimmer and yet, something tells Jihoon that it shouldn’t be that too surprising for him.
Because he has a picture that looks exactly like the one Scoups has, one he left in Busan ten years ago the day he left his boyfriend. The day he left Choi Seungcheol who, for a very funny coincidence Jihoon doesn’t find amusing at all, is the name of the man one of the receipts his Night Companion forgot to pick up, left there under the foot of the couch. And Jihoon, like he always says he is, is a smart man, and the last time he remembers, he told Choi Seungcheol in his note to return to Daegu where he belongs and that man isn’t at all deaf!
Whoever this Scoups-guy is and whatever game he is playing, it stops now.
Who would’ve thought this cute, impaired man happens to be someone who has a dark intention on Jihoon who is just living his life? And the nerve of his ex to send someone else in his stead and face Jihoon himself!
* * * * *
“My First and Last Love”
* * * * *
“Hey, Cheol?” asked Jeonghan from behind as he calls his best friend’s attention with a finger on his broad shoulder.
Seungcheol was quick to turn around to Jeonghan. “Yes?”
“There’s a hamster-looking dude waiting for you at table six.”
“The customers from last week with the drunken pipsqueak I had to escort out, Seungcheol!”
It took the older a couple of seconds to remember but it’s not too hard to forget customers who make a scene including the ones Jeonghan just mentioned.
“O- oh…” hummed Seungcheol. “…And?”
“They said they’re looking for a Seungcheol and you’re the only one here…”
It’s against company rule to relieve an employee during operating hours unless it is an emergency or his break but some exceptions can be made like when a familiar visitor comes popping in, customers who are far too loyal to some befriended workers and maybe, Seungcheol is still not so sure about this but he can take a risk, when an ex he hasn’t seen or even heard of for the past decade doesn’t only show up to his work but is also looking for him!
“…He said you know some Lee Jihoon?”
* * * * *
All Soonyoung knows is that tonight is the scheduled night where his best friend is unavailable due to some “personal” reasons and one he is in complete awareness of and won’t dwell about any longer considering how the last time he tried to, Jihoon ends up blabbering like a drunken virgin on how his first time went and although it’s not entirely his first time as per Jihoon himself, it was still almost like that since it has been past the amount of time a single man can tolerate the absence of physical intimacy but Jihoon isn’t any ordinary man. He is strong, tough and someone who is more like a robot than an actual human being who rarely show any compassion or emotion at best! Unless he is with Soonyoung as the older has this tendencies to bring the best out of the other, and with that, also his worst because for the first time in years of their relationship as friends as thick as thieves, this is the first time he heard Jihoon’s voice far from the usual tone he has, neither angry nor sad but just expressionless even through the line of the phone and Soonyoung is no best friend at all if he didn’t get what means.
With all the celebrities and people dying of depression, Soonyoung is not to lose someone so close to him especially not his best friend, not Jihoon who found sitting on the couch with a polaroid film in hand as he kept there, so small and quiet in his robes he perfectly has a full view of nothing but naked skin underneath. And to think that Jihoon has his legs spread apart.
“Jihoon-ah? Is everything okay?”
Soonyoung’s question was left unanswered, causing him to ask it again, louder and with a hand placing onto one of his best friend’s muscular thigh, both to snap him out of whatever daze he seems in as he kept his eyes locked on that old picture he is holding and now that he sees it, a dusty old receipt, but also to push Jihoon’s legs closed. It’s scary enough to think that Soonyoung saw Jihoon like that and even if there’s not a chance someone might pop in too, at least the flabbergasted host is a little bit more presentable than what he is when Soonyoung got to him.
“Jihoon? Man, you’re scaring me. What the hell is the probl- ”
“…Choi Seungcheol. He’s onto me.”
Choi Seungcheol, a man Soonyoung hasn’t met and neither had Jihoon mentioned throughout the entirety of their relationship as friends.
“Who’s Choi Seungchan again, Jihoon?!”
“Seungcheol, and he’s my…” and Jihoon turns to his best friend with a gaze that struck Soonyoung’s resolve. “…my ex.”
Never had Soonyoung seen Jihoon like this, never had he heard Jihoon like this, and never had he felt this kind of tension in Jihoon even in the direst of situations from college all the way to their current lives as professionals from the entertainment industries; whoever this ex Jihoon is revealing now, this Seungcheol is someone who has made such an impact on his poor best friend’s life to actually drive him to this point of insanity.
“Seungcheol, huh? So I guess he’s in Busan?”
“I think so or Daegu since that’s where he came from.”
“Then maybe he is. Should I check on it? You just have to give- ”
“I’ll go, Horangi. Just to make sure. It’s also my mess anyway.”
“Then I’ll come with you!” Soonyoung replied, a hopeful smile on his face that did little help to make his friend smile as well although half-hearted but it was worth the shot.
“You never know what that Seungcheol guy is up to and he might harass you or anything, Ji! I can’t let him do that!”
“No, he’s actually really sweet when I left him. I’m sure he cried his eyes out.”
Jihoon shrugs. “I mean for me.” He said. “He’s rather tall with a big built, he has this very cute smile and big eyes that can almost see through you. His voice is kinda pitched but that’s natural to him. Seungcheol is also the kindest, most generous and optimistic man I know! He doesn’t get mad, not even once!”
“He sounds like a too-much guy for you.” Commented Soonyoung.
“He is but now that I think of it, he was just taking care of me.”
“So he’s sweet, he’s handsome and he’s a total boyfriend-material Seungcheol?”
For a second there, the Jihoon Soonyoung knows resurfaced just to shoot a glare at him that could save the planet from global warming from how cold it was.
“Not if you put it like that, Kwon Soonyoung.”
“Hey, I’m just summarizing it to narrow down the list!”
“The list…?” hummed Jihoon back. “…and how many Seungcheols are in that list of yours?”
“Currently? Just one.” Soonyoung confessed, chuckling lowly at it too.
“Do I know this Seungcheol?” the younger asked in slight curiosity in which it was quickly answered with his best friend shaking his head in vain.
“Even I don’t know him!”
“Then how is it that he’s on your list?”
“Well, he’s Seungcheol because that’s what his name tag is saying and he works at this restaurant in Itaewon. The one you got drunk at last week, do you remember? I’m sure you do- it’s kinda weird really since he made this sign language thingy with his hands but he talked so I was like ‘what’ but he seems- ”
“ -Kwon Soonyoung, take me there!”
* * * * *
“He has a hearing impairment so you have to speak slowly so he can read your lips.” Said the employee whose name is Jeonghan to Soonyoung, Jihoon is sitting next to him with his head lowered almost as if he’s leaning onto the table.
“Just get him here…” It was Jihoon who said that, rather impolite even if the customer is always right, forcing Soonyoung to make a forced smile as an attempt to deescalate a situation bound to happen with how Jeonghan sent a snarky look at the smaller customer of theirs.
A part of Jihoon- a big part really wishes that it’s not the man he is looking for because again, Seungcheol is not deaf, the last time he checked but that said last time was ten years ago, a decade where a lot can happen and while Jihoon may have rose to a more luxurious lifestyle, Seungcheol can slip into a life far from what Jihoon’s brilliant mind can think of like working in as a Samgyeopsal restaurant staff that happens to be deaf too just like Scoups, LJ’s Night Companion that has quite the uncanny resemblance like the man standing in front of him and Soonyoung.
The man’s nametag says: ‘Seungcheol’, but his entirety says a very clear: ‘ex’.
“I’m Soonyoung, by the way.”
“No one’s asking.” Hissed Jeonghan, rolling his eyes as he did.