Genre: Angst, drama
Summary: Yunho once chose kinship over love, and is now willing to do anything as penance for his act of betrayal.
It was early autumn the day they first met. He was twelve, and lived with his aunt Ae Kyung in the quarters of the orphanage she ran. It was slightly chilly, but nonetheless lovely for a quiet read under the old willow tree he had learnt to appreciate. The other children avoided the weeping willow because it looked ominous from their windows at night, its elongated leaves swaying lifelessly with the night breeze.
What the other children feared, he had loved. He had developed a nightly routine of gazing at the willow tree under the night sky from his room, the drooping branches hypnotizing him as they swayed with the gentle breeze. The grass patch beneath the giant willow was a place of fond memories, memories he sought to relive every night. He was afraid that he’d forget her. He could never forget her. Those same beautiful, intelligent eyes stared back at him in the mirror every morning.
Jaejoong shivered slightly as the autumn wind hit his chest that was only protected by a flimsy tee. He was at his favourite hangout – in the shade created by the cascading falls of the weeping willow. The plunging V style of his cardigan was flattering and fashion-forward, but it did little in protecting him from the elements. He was struggling to get through the first chapter of the Life of Pi, a novel he had grabbed from the repository of brand new books the Jung matriarch had donated to their library. He had been overjoyed when he opened the large boxes which had arrived that fine morning, and zealously arranged the books onto the shelf designated for new additions.
The books might as well have been his, since the other children were rowdy and much preferred playing games and surfing the net. He scoffed. He had fought so hard to challenge the stereotype of kids who grew up in orphanages, that they lacked discipline in their academics and were either bullies over-compensating for their inferiority complex, or weaklings in a self-perpetuated cycle who focused their energies toward attracting attention and sympathy rather than self-improvement. He flashed his bright social smile frequently, worked incredibly hard to excel at whatever he endeavoured in school, and had many friends. Alas, judging from Ae Kyung’s frequent summons to the schools, he was the only one here fighting against that stereotype.
Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
A familiar tune disrupted his quiet, private time. He cussed internally. Somebody was about to vie with him for his spot. He remained still, willing that somebody to go elsewhere. He had after all escape to his secret haven to avoid all the small talk that came with the Jungs’ visit. He could easily fill in the lyrics to the musical number that was whistled with much flare. However, whatever reminiscence triggered by the uplifting song was relegated to the back of his mind for now. He grew increasingly annoyed at the inconsiderate intruder whistling so carefreely and loudly, ruining his pensive moment.
The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well
I whistle a happy tune
And ev’ry single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I’m not afraid
Refusing to let himself get carried away singing the lyrics in his head, he cleared his throat the loudest he could, and the whistling stopped mid-line. Success! He continued leaning against the trunk and was about to get back to his book when the other parted the curtain of leaves and joined him under the shade.
He gave the intruder a once-over. The boy was tall, and looked a couple of years older than him. His almond eyes, thin nose and small pout were common-looking on their own but put together with that chiseled jaw and elegant cheekbones, they composed a strikingly handsome face.
He noted the expensive looking pieces of the stranger’s get-up – a dark red cashmere pullover framing his broad shoulders nicely, a pair of well-cut moss green corduroy pants, and suede leather oxfords in a nice autumn tan shade. What on earth? This awkwardly handsome teenager was a walking fashion disaster!
“Traffic light.” He murmured under his breath, annoyed that a person who could afford such beautiful pieces of clothing made more than one fashion faux pas. He could definitely match those individual pieces effortlessly.
“You should be.” He mumbled quietly and saw the puzzled expression on the stranger’s face.
“Huh?” Jaejoong sighed. He was tempted to use the clueless, unobservant boy as punching bag, but he reined in on his bad mood before it got the better of him.
“Nothing.” He got up and gathered his thermos and book, planning to head back in for dinner and let the boy have his spot. He was probably a guest with the Jungs’ entourage, and he could not risk offending anyone associated with the biggest sponsor of the orphanage.
He walked as fast as his legs could carry him, but the tall boy walked alongside him, trying to strike a conversation on their way to dinner. This person was chirpy, as evidenced in his long, sprightly strides and overall cheerful disposition. Jaejoong envied his bright mood. He obviously had little troubles and led a privileged life. Jaejoong determinedly avoided being too close to such people. It never paid off to ingratiate with people out of his league; he ought to safeguard his emotional health and stop comparing himself with those who could boast of enviable backgrounds.
“You're Jaejoong right?” He was jolted from his thoughts and whipped around, taken aback that the stranger he had been judging critically for the past few minutes knew his name. Ae Kyung had apparently sent him out to call him back for the feast the Jungs had prepared for everyone.
“And you are?”
“I’m Yunho, Jung Yunho.” The boy had a friendly smile. Friendly because it exposed his imperfection, those crooked front teeth, and Jaejoong had fancied the small mole he glimpsed above his upper lip. He paused. Jung? Ah, one of the precious Jung sons the generous lady had been so proud of. This is definitely not the one who is a popular teenage actor. Probably the sixteen-year-old who served as prized winger and top scorer for their school’s rugby team then.
Jaejoong had remained indifferent throughout dinner. He could tell that Yunho was a kind-hearted boy trying his best to find a common topic of interest to engage Jaejoong but what use was there, forming an attachment to a boy he would only encounter once? He was dying for the night to end, for the Jungs to leave so he wouldn’t feel like a charity case they felt obliged to interact with to gain the approval of the general public. He was tired of putting up a happy front for the roving photographers eager to capture little grateful faces surrounding the kind lady who wore a natural, benevolent smile. Her son had obviously inherited her friendly smile and aura. These were people who exuded a dignified, elegant air; it was impossible not to notice them even if they weren’t drawing attention to themselves. No, Jaejoong. He caught himself before he got carried away. He had to stop being curious about the Jungs, lest he fell prey to their charm and got too attached. Attachment to others easily turned into expectations of them, and he was all too familiar with the trap people unwittingly fell into once they let their guard down.
She had burnt him when she left him in Ae Kyung’s care to try for better prospects. She had promised to return when she had made good of herself, but at that time he was already ten, and wise enough to recognize that promise as a false hope she had planted in him for him to live on bravely. He wasn't counting on her to return for him. He shouldn't. She hadn't returned for a single visit, or called Ae Kyung to speak to him since she left.
The Jungs were lining the front porch waiting for their chauffeured ride. He felt eyes trained on his back, but he stubbornly resisted the urge to turn around and say goodbye. He was still training his will and before he had successfully mastered the art of detachment internally as well, he could not give in. He will not open himself to the risk of hurt. Never.
And so, he pretended that he hadn’t heard that it was Yunho who had suggested those additions to their library, and pretended that he hadn’t heard Yunho tell Ae Kyung that he had seen Jaejoong pouring through the books in the school library, deliberating which titles were worthy of his check-out quota.
Note 1: And so Jaejoong and Yunho meet for the first time. Take heart, Jaejoong won't always remain the way he is in this chapter. I'm planning to alternate chapters between lengthy flashbacks and the present. For those who are curious, Jaejoong is granted early release from prison when he is 27 years old. This is unbeta'd so please alert me to any mistakes. Also, do let me know your thoughts, and please feel free to critique. (:
Note 2: Song Credit: "I Whistle a Happy Tune" from the musical "The King and I".