title: the beautiful side of somewhere
rating: pg-13 (domestic violence, language)
pairings: jaemin; jongkey; sunye/changmin friendship; various others
disclaimer: I am not LSM or JYP. I don't own any of the artists in this story.
in which changmin has to deal with vandalized pants, flu-shots and movado watches, PMS (or general bitchiness), wet paint, porn magazines, and Jaejoong (who may or may not live in the subway).
When you need to be mean cold is cold, cold is cold and dirt is clean.
So I swooped underneath. It was okay, it was okay. for cheap relief.
Marry me lethargy, carry me lethargy...
So I came overground, is when I clung and I clung to a cloud.
Where it drifted is where it was bound, when I touched and I touched broken sound.
Marry me lethargy, carrry me lethargy...
Wait 'till I get in my own space, wait 'till I kick in my own face.
I discovered them this morning, when a torrent of sunlight streamed through my bedroom widow and prodded me in the eyes until I was awake. When I sat up in bed, I was in a state of confusion- I usually woke up in my own room. And it was my room, I noticed, glancing at my bed and my indigo walls and my bulletin board and my whirring Dell XPS. Only, it was in an unusual state of chaos, with the entirety of my wardrobe speckled across my floor and over my desk and bed post.
I panicked when I saw my beloved beanies scattered across the floor and not in the transparent storage tub clearly labeled “HATS”. I also almost had a heart attack when I spotted my hoodies shoved hastily back onto the wrong colored hangers. You can’t blame me. I’m a well organized person who has to keep my room structured; in the bedlam that is my life, it’s the only refuge that makes sense anymore. I coordinate my wardrobe using colored hangers- orange for button-down shirts, blue for t-shirts, light blue for jackets, and so on. I label everything from my journals to my photo albums, and Post-its swallow the side of my nightstand.
Naturally, I had thought some burglar had ransacked my room. In my state of alarm I had forgotten a huge, obvious factor in the equation of my life. Until I strode into the kitchen, arms waving wildly above my head in some exotic dance of distress, and found my best friend pouring orange juice for herself. Wearing my jeans. And those once clean and perfectly wearable pair of jeans now donned blue stars and cross-hatched designs and ridiculous phrases like “YIELD” down the side and one or two deliberate rips.
Sun Ye Min didn’t understand my fury and followed me as I swept down the stairs of Fulton River Apartments and stomped past the plastic shrubbery, towards the parking lot, flask of caffè macchiato in one hand.
“Where are you going?” She called, but I disregarded her. She caught up to me and clasped my arm. “Where are you going, Min?” She persisted.
I shook her off. “Work,” I growled. “Where else?”
Sun Ye walked beside me, trying to clasp my wrist, but I threw her fingers off each time. She finally circled around and stood in front of me, hands on her hips. I halted, glowering at her in my damaged jeans and her favorite Badfish concert tour T-shirt. If I had telekinesis, I could have hurled her into the side of the building.
“You don’t have to be there for, like, two hours. “
I blew my vehemence out with a tremendous sigh and forced myself to calm down. She was right, I didn’t have to be at work for two hours, but I was planning to be early and help set up so that I could be home earlier than usual. “Work” was assisting at a voluntary medical clinic in Southside Chicago, and it only took thirty minutes to reach from Fulton River. I didn’t get paid, but my mom had roped me in a few years after the son of our family friends, the Parks, had started volunteering there. Good for my resume. Even though I had started my first year of college two months ago, the clinic was an enjoyable and productive way to pass time. At least I didn’t graffiti my friends’ clothes when I was bored.
“You demolished a wonderfully good pair of pants, Sun Ye. Those don’t even fit you.”
“That’s what this is about?” I gawked at her scowl. Wasn’t I supposed to be the one scowling? “I gave them some artistic value, is what I did.” She jabbed a finger at a skull with a flower coming out of its eyes. Tasteless, I thought. Absolutely tasteless. “And they do fit if I use a belt and roll them up a few inches...or so.”
“Is that where my green belt went, too?” I raised a brow and she shrugged sheepishly. “Forget it. I’m not even angry that you were stealing my jeans, but that you had to turn my room upside down to find them!”
“It’s just a little mess! You can clean it up in five minutes. Your room was unhealthy anyway.” She shivered.
“It was organized and hygienic, unlike anything of yours! I have to have my room one certain way, Sun Ye, you know that. I get nervous, otherwise.”
“Because you’re a freak?”
“Ye- NO! Say sorry!” I pouted, and she laughed. Somehow, fighting with Sun Ye always made me look like the fool. I turned my back to her sharply and unlocked the door of my black Honda Civic DX.
“Fine. I’m sorry.” She leaned her head on the rolled-down widow as I started the car. My back was to her as I decided which track to pop in. I decided on ZZ Top’s “La Grange”. “Now, can you do this one thing for me?” I looked over my shoulder and glowered. Only then did I notice the leather-bound portfolio clasped in her hands. She shoved it through the window. “Can you drop this off at Unicoi on your way back?”
Unicoi was the art studio where Sun Ye brought all her pieces to life. At seventeen-years-old, she’d already won every art contest she’d admitted her work into in Chicago. It wasn’t that surprising- her father had been a famous artist in Chicago, too, and her mother had been a celebrated potter back in Korea. Creativity flowed, congenital, through her veins. Sometimes, like in the case of my poor jeans, that inbred impulse wasn’t so great.
The coach from Fulton River to Woodlawn was fairly empty, so I claimed three seats and took out Sun Ye’s collection. The first print depicted a deformed, nymph-like creature in the ocean, the sunset reflected beautifully under the revolting women. From afar, it looked like it was done with water colors, but, as I pulled the print closer to my nose, thousands of little dots made up to piece. It must have taken forever. Something like the warmth from a bonfire bloomed in my chest.
I flipped through the rest of her work slowly, the magnificent range of styles and colors blending together, twisting, and entangling. I recalled, somewhere in the distance, a woman’s mechanical voice, but the message was muffled.
When my eyes flickered open again, everything was clear. The neon red words flashed across from me like a clock alarm: BROOKDALE. The coach came to a screeching halt just as my heart plummeted through my ass and onto the cold, grimy floor. I had missed the Woodlawn stop far back.
There was no choice for me but to grab my burlap bag and plod out into the station. I groaned and ran a hand through my crown of black hair. Have to buy another ticket. My stomach grumbled painfully. I spotted a vendor by the stairway; on his stand hung packets of Cool Ranch Doritos, most likely expired. Have to buy those, first.
I reached into my bag to pull out my wallet, but noticed something else missing first.
I cursed under my breath; this could not be happening. But it was. I watched the departing coach, defeated, until it faded into the distance, leaving me to gaze at torn “Spam-A-Lot” posters and futile “NO SMOKING” signs on the filthy walls. Sun Ye was going to murder- no, worse, castrate- me.
“Never saw myself with kids, anyway.” Sigh. Hands shoved into my pockets, I groped for my cell (where the hell was it?), when a firm nudge to the back turned me around to glower at the perpetrator. My glare was fixed on nothing, till I looked down. A golden-toned woman, puny (maybe five-foot-one or something- God, she barely reached my chest), scowled up at me. I held back a snicker- always the polite Changmin Shim- at how ineffective the expression of malice seemed with her fully craning her neck to unleash it on me.
With a thick, Hispanic accent, she growled “You left this on your seat,” and plunged the portfolio and my wallet into my stomach, before stalking off in the opposite direction. Ow. I stumbled, but caught the two things, shoving my wallet into my pocket and Sun Ye’s folder into my bag. “When did I leave my wallet...?” I shook my head. Of course I would have done that. I was doing exceptionally well at screwing everything up, today.
Pouting, I rubbed my belly with tender love. I’d also learned that size was definitely no indication of power.
When I peeled back the tent flap and tried to slither to the first-aid crates without being noticed, Yoochun Park was already there, tapping his stupid, shiny, polished shoe on the grass. The “Pit, pat” was inaudible, but he looked as menacing as he wanted to anyway, standing with his arms crossed and eyebrows arched deep into his hairline like some big-shot boss. As if. He wasn’t even getting paid to overlook us “rookies”.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Yoochun. He’s a good friend. He just forgets that he’s only a year older than me, sometimes.
Reaching into the large, white box, I snapped on some slimy, latex gloves (grape flavored, in fact. Tell me why it matters what flavor medical gloves are?), but never took my eyes off of Yoochun. I stared, his eyebrows vaulted higher. Finally, he sighed, and dug into the crate too, retrieving alcoholic wipes. “Minnie, why are you,” here, I saw him glance at his leather Movado wristwatch, “...two hours late?”
I flushed. Had it really been that long since I swept out of the apartment complex, ready to get to the clinic early, in fact? Of course, I had fought with Sun Ye, missed my stop by four stations, had had to wait thirty minutes for the next subway back, had lost and found Sun Ye’s portfolio and my wallet, and then had to walk fourteen blocks to get here.
Instead of telling my supervisor all of that, I settled for a small scowl. “Not like this is my job, Micky,” I snapped, latching on his nickname as he had mine. “I had some work to do for school.” I lied smoothly.
“Liar, you finish everything the day you get it. Dork. ” he hissed, but he smiled at me, and I had to grin back. It was so painfully true, that ‘Dork’ wasn’t an insult to me. It was the absolute truth.
“That’s because I’m amazing. Not ‘cause I’m a dork,” I supplied, but admitted, “Though I am a dork,” and he chuckled, nodding.
I walked out of the tent and into the field, where plastic, fold-up chairs for flu shots were scattered throughout. Today was the clinic’s annual flu shot day, and hundreds of families were pouring through the netted gates to get their free vaccination. Yoochun followed me towards our stations, clasping a heap of informational pamphlets. I handed the doctor we were assisting today, a kindly woman called “Dr. Susie”, the cotton swabs she needed, and disclosed to Micky “Sun Ye needed me to do a favor for her, something for that art fair next week.” His eyes became huge, like golf balls, I swear.
“Really? How is she? I should go check out that fair, then?. You think Sun Ye would like that?”
I swallowed my laughter. Yoochun’s infatuation with Sun Ye was obvious and prolonged. He’d first laid eyes on her when she came to pick me up with my mother. That was in 10th grade. At first she, merely thirteen years, was taken by the prospect of dating a high school student and toyed with the poor bloke. That quickly faded when she found the next plaything...erm...admirer. And, really, comparing her current boyfriend, Dul Bong, to Yoochun, with his khaki golf shorts and designer sunglasses, was a joke.
“What? You don’t think she would? CHANGMIN?” Yoochun, who I noted was actually wearing khaki golf shorts (despite the fact that it was, what, 40 degrees Fahrenheit?), swat at my head, hauteur returning, though it was to mask his insecurity, don’t think I couldn’t tell. I snickered, and he relented, his face falling like a fraught, famished dog. I almost died.
“You look like a constipated pug.”
He didn’t talk to me for the rest of the afternoon.
After cleaning the clinic up and taking my leave, the clouds had finally let the brewing rainstorm crash down upon us at around four o’ clock, and, naturally, the coat I’d chosen to wear today had no hood. Under the shelter of a Burger King, I dialed Sun Ye, whining, and the conversation went something like this:
“It’s me. It’s raining. I’m not going to the studio.”
A scoff. “It’s not that bad.” Pause, a rustling. “Be a MAN, Min.”
“Are you even looking outside? IT’S POURING.”
“I don’t care. You don’t want me disqualified, do you? DO YOU, MIN?”
“I really don’t give a-“
“No. You don’t. So get your little ass to the studio.”
“Buuuuuutttt...” Whine, whine.
“Buuttttttt.....” A pout.
“Changmin Shim. I will castrate you.”
A whitewashed sigh. “I thought that much anyway. Bye.”
She hung up after telling me it was just tough luck. As if I didn’t know. In the end, I decided I didn’t actually want Sun Ye disqualified, and I truly feared for Little Changmin, so I took fifteen minutes to walk to the studio where submissions could be handed in. I was drenched; my soft, black tufts of hair were trapped, sticky and damp, to my nape, and the large breasted lady sneered at the way I dripped onto her black linoleum floors. She grabbed the folder and kindly directed me back out into the rain.
This time, I didn’t fall asleep through my stop. But it was kind of hard to. Equally drenched men in stuffy business suits and women with gigantic heels that would occasionally find my toes were all pressed against each other, like in a nightclub, except there were no horny chicks grinding stoned guys in a giant circle of sluts. I couldn’t find any available seats, so I joined them, circling my fingers around a metal poll with distaste.
When the coach came to a halt at Fulton River, I stepped onto the platform wearily. Ambling over to an empty corner, almost dragging my bag and coat, I watched a rush of office workers depart the stations, ready to eat dinner and watch T.V. with their families after a long day, until just a few travelers littered the grimy building. Threading my fingers through my hair, now dry and unruly, I leaned against a cement pillar and shut my eyes. A little rest, I told myself, and then I’ll be off.
That was quickly interrupted I felt a tug on my sleeve and found some four-year-old kid staring up at me as if I was a strange decoration fixed to the column. I smiled uncomfortably down at him, and inquired what he wanted.
“I think that paint’s wet, mister.”
Startled, I dove away from the thick poll, as if I could have still salvaged my favorite shirt, but sure enough, as I struggled to press my hand to my spine and find a damp stain, my palm was blemished by this oogy, yucky stuff that might or might not have been paint. It was probably toxic.
I didn’t even think, “Just my luck.” The phrase had become boring. Rolling my eyes as the evil toddler pointed and cackled at me, I hauled up my rucksack and coat, and headed towards the stairway.
I recognized Slash’s “November Rain” reverberating off of the gray walls with some surprise. I detested the impoverished, grizzly-bearded, scraggly sorts that congregated at theatre entrances and dark nooks in the street and bus and subway stations, detonating some melody on their saxophones or trumpets, with their hats and blankets and stranded pennies lain in front of them. The tunes were always sad and soft and sorrowful takes on Christmas carols- not the type the general public would enjoy and tip, but the sort that physically pained you because you felt so bad for the raggedly clothed man who reminded you of your sick grandfather.
Never before had a heard a rendition of one of the greatest guitar solos imitated so perfectly though. I mean, that was a hard piece to replicate.
I slowed curiously as I passed by the platinum blonde...man? Woman? The fingers, strumming the black instrument were so delicate, long, and soft, like a lady’s, yet the shoulders were broad and confident like they belonged to a man. Flaxen hair swept across the forehead, concealing everything but a small, open, cherry lips. A pink tongue would flit out randomly and lick those lips shiny.
I wasn’t sure why I was noticing all of this. I really wasn’t sure why my hand had already delved into my pocket, had already found my wallet, had already clasped a dollar bill.
I tore my eyes away and kept walking- quicker, longer strides now. But I felt heavy, and my heart moved with the music, as if it wanted to spin back to the guitar and “ba-dump, ba-dump” right along with it. And I felt a little guilty. He...she...looked young, I reasoned, and whoever it was had talent. I was sincerely enjoying their playing. I was-
I was making a beeline towards the guitarist again.
I was aware of the fact that I was fully flushed, totally crimson, as I bent towards the guitar to place my dollar in his hat or guitar case, but there was no hat and the guitar case was locked shut. There was no place for me to put my money, and there were no faded green leafs of paper anywhere around him, so I guessed that I was the first generous person to stop so far. The guitarist didn’t seem to notice me either, as I carefully avoided brushing a knee or catching the eyes hiding beneath pale bangs, and let George Washington float to the cement where the musician would spot it.
There. I straightened quickly and started walking towards the parking lot again, when the famous melody cut off abruptly and there was a far-off rustling and, soon after, a gentle tug on my wrist. I turned, knowing, somehow, who it was already, and was slightly affronted to see the platinum guitarist snickering at me and shoving my dollar back into my face.
I saw that it was, unmistakably, a man now, around my age, but his features were delicate and slender and his ivory skin made him look like porcelain. His eyes, gray, blue, and black all at the same time, twinkled with mirth. His facial features were almost perfect and good-natured; they clashed with the unruly, casually chaotic attitude of his clothing and hair.
“I think this is yours.” His voice was smooth and marred with amusement as he waved my money in front of my nose.
“Ahh....” My nape was scarlet, probably, as I rubbed it, like I did when I was embarrassed. “I gave...well...” How were you supposed to explain to someone that you thought that they were homeless or on the breadline without offending them? “Sorry.” I seized my dollar bill and folded it into my pocket.
He shook his head and smiled, then turned back to his little spot.
“Wait.” I called, without realizing that I had done so. I was desperate to understand. “Why are you...?”
He looked over his shoulder, fixing the white strap of the Les Paul Custom around his shoulder blades, and it was as if the radiating smile was permanent on his face. “I’m just looking to be discovered.”
I nodded dumbly, still not quite comprehending how that was possible in a subway station, or why I was so intrigued. He was stupid. Crazy. I turned to leave again, but found another question rolling off. “What’s your name?” Now, I was just being freaky, I realized, asking for a complete stranger’s name, but his eyes didn’t squint in suspicion and his mouth didn’t become a disapproving slit in his face. If possible, his luminous grin widened.
“Jaejoong Kim.” He answered, bowing a little as he sat upon his wooden crate again. “You going to refer me to anyonr?”
I stared at the smirk, the raise d brows, and shook my head mutely, because, no, I didn’t know anyone to refer him to, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to describe him justifiably. He watched me in return for a few moments, then leaned into his guitar again. I walked away, finally, as Jaejoong picked up with an unfamiliar rhythm, but it felt like I was dancing somersaults.
When I opened the door, I found Sun Ye with her head in my mother’s lap, both females clutching their stomachs in what looked like agony. I slipped off my sneakers at the welcome mat and perched myself at Sun Ye’s feet. “Are you guys okay?”
I was silenced by a synchronized “SHUSH” and a excruciating punt to my spine. I glowered at their contorted faces and hazarded a glance at screen, recoiling in disgust as some thug’s bloody intestines fell out onto the pavement and his head rolled beside a gutter. Sun Ye trembled beside me as a demented woman came up behind his friend with a bloody chain saw, and, as I looked over, I realized that she and my mother were shaking with laughter.
Women were scary.
I escaped the callous beasts in my living room, and shut my bedroom door to their merciless whoops and cheers. Once I was alone in what was quite possibly my only sanctuary in the universe, I finally relaxed. Gently folding my coat over the bedpost, I slumped into the cloud of silk sheets that smelled vaguely of lilac detergent, and homework, and Sun Ye’s shampoo, and home. My eyes were inevitably fluttering shut when there was a distinct squeal followed by familiar giggling.
“You two!” I hissed, and my sisters stared back at their upside down brother as if they were deer caught in headlights. Except that they were two nosy brats caught under their older brother’s bed with his-
Oh my god.
“YOU GIVE ME THOSE.” The fiends screeched and crawled out from the other direction as I tried to capture what was in their hands without falling onto my back. I looked at them wildly and they leered at me, confidence returning as they stood by my door, ready to yelp if I threatened them.
“We’re telling Mom.” They held up the glossy, laminated July issue of Penthouse, so that Daisy Marie stared back at me in her yellow lingerie set that..well, it didn’t leave much to the imagination.
I wanted to slam my head into the wall so that it would break open and my brain would fall out. The magazine was old, and not even mine. Last summer had entailed some harmless fun- and ogling- which called for sleepovers with Junsu and his infamous porn collection.
“How much do you want?” I growled, already retrieving my wallet.
“Only twenty. This time.” The older one, Joo Eun, smiled sweetly, and I snorted. Gi Yon, at four, didn’t even know what a porn magazine was, but followed her sister like a devotee and a saint. She was adorable, now, but I know she’d follow in her notorious sister’s footsteps. That was why I had to be careful and cunning. They were like short, squeaky-voiced ninjas.
I bestowed them with a twenty dollar bill, and Joo Eun nodded. Gi Yon held out the rolled up publication in her chubby little fingers and I took it from her, ruffling her messy crown of ebony hair. The satisfied pair left, and I threw Daisy Marie into my bag, so that I could give it to Junsu on Monday.
For the next few hours, I began to re-edit my term paper (for the fourth time, I believe) and browsed the news on MSN. Apparently, I had drifted asleep, but hadn’t realized it until I felt something crawl onto my back, and shot up, startled and drooling on my laptop.
Sun Ye rolled off of me and crawled in towards the adjacent pillowcase, taking up the fetal position. Since she was three, she had slept like that. Like a bunny. I clicked my laptop shut, put it on the nightstand. 9:20 P.M. glowed on the digital clock. I plopped onto my own pillow and rolled onto my side.
“That movie was so demented. The woman ate her son’s heart. Insanity, I tell you.” Her muffled voice floated from the pillow.
I twisted my face in disgust. “You didn’t like it?” I asked, hopeful that my best friend wasn’t a cold-blooded monster.
“Are you kidding me? It was bomb.” Of course.
She shifted her face so that I could see her grin, and the moon, mostly hiding behind the curtains, glinted in her eyes. She looked, oddly, like the psychotic lady in the very same movie she was describing. I sighed and trapped her in my arms, pulling her closer, and she nuzzled into my warmth, just like when we were toddlers, taking our nap together. I threaded my fingers through her hair, chocolate, and long, and intentionally messy as I thought. She let me, staying silent except for occasionally shifting or coughing.
As my eyelids felt heavy, and sleep was, once more about to claim me, I remembered something.
“I saw this really strange guy at the subway station today. He was playing “November Rain.”
“Mmmf?” Sun Ye’s intrigue was already marred by drowsiness, but I just wanted to hear my voice in the dark.
“Yeah. I thought he was homeless, but he was just waiting to be, like, ‘discovered’ or something. Isn’t that weird?”
There was no reply; I pulled the comforter over us.
I closed my eyes and dreamed that I was chasing shooting stars and catching falling ones.