Fragile Essence, Chapter Five

Fragile Essence
Chapter Five
Author: Aquariuslover
Pairings: Yunho, Jaejoong
Rating: R
Genre: Romance, Angst, AU
Length: Chaptered
Beta: tahoeturquoise 

Summary: Jaejoong, the half Korean child nobody wanted, and Yunho, the beloved golden son of a town, form an unlikely bond; one that is forever evolving through the passing years as it is repeatedly tested by love, loss, and fire. This is part one of their story.

Warning!!! In the upcoming chapters there will be things that occur that some might find sad or offensive. I will not spoil my chapters by giving specific warnings for each chapter. If you read the prologue than you know how the story ends. Death is a topic that will be explored throughout this story. This is my last warning on the subject. If you decide to continue reading it is your decision.

Chapter List 

On the first day of spring a huge snow storm had hit the town of Red Fern. It covered the ground in two feet of snow, and Jaejoong had proved useless to his aunt. Since the terrible day in the restaurant that had ended Jaejoong and Yunho’s friendship, Jaejoong had been prone to illness. Not faked illnesses to keep him out of school activities, but bouts of strep throat and bronchitis—almost as if his body was as broken as his heart.

Yunho had said less than ten words to him since that horrible day. The Jungs were at a loss. They still tried to include Jaejoong in their family activities, but he found every excuse known to man to avoid them. Mr. and Mrs. Jung would not stop though and Jaejoong did find himself at the Jung’s house when he knew Yunho was away. Mrs. Jung insisted that he was her cooking protégé and she required his assistance.

Jaejoong liked working at Splendid and was glad that the Jungs had refused to let him quit. They let it be known that they thought his fight with Yunho was silly and that it would not last. To his surprise he also found that Aunt Bessie seemed to be encouraging their reconciliation at every opportunity. She, who had once said that a friendship like theirs wasn’t meant to last, just scoffed when he reminded her of her own words and told him not to listen to silly old women.

He also thought Gertrude, the long-time Jung housekeeper slash nanny, was in on it. She often called Jaejoong over to the Jung house with claims that she couldn’t get Junsu to settle down or that Hana was upset and needed him. Each time Jaejoong showed up the kids did look upset, but not nearly as distraught as she made them out to be. And suspiciously, Yunho was at the house each time she called. Gertrude would just declare that Yunho was no help to her. She said Yunho’s siblings knew he was an arrogant jerk, and wouldn’t be comforted by him, which was a lie, and Jaejoong knew it. Hana and Junsu both loved Yunho and he was wonderful with them.

Jaejoong, who was more than willing to beg forgiveness and promise to live a celibate life if it meant he could be friends with Yunho again, never got a chance to apologize. He tried many times that first month after their fight to apologize, but Yunho would just give him a cold look and tell him he didn’t want to hear it. Each time Yunho rejected him Jaejoong died a little more inside and by the time March hit he had lost weight he didn’t have to spare. Huge black bags hung under his eyes reminding him of the sleep he severely lacked. Sleep evaded him as thoughts of Yunho filled his mind and left him aching at night.

It was the Saturday afternoon after the blizzard, and Jaejoong was curled up on the couch with three blankets covering him. He had a temperature of 102 and he felt miserable. He was coughing up thick, yellow sputum that made him gag when he looked at it. He was feeling both miserable and sorry for himself when someone knocked on the door.

Even if Jaejoong thought he was dying he still got up to answer the door, so Aunt Bessie wouldn’t have to. Aunt Bessie was getting more frail with each passing day. She could never be without her oxygen now, and her gait was very unsteady. She had fallen in the bathroom a couple of weeks ago, while showering. She had been humiliated when Jaejoong had to help her up from the bottom of the bathtub. Luckily she had not hurt herself physically; she had only hurt her pride. He tried to reassure her that he was happy to take care of her, but she had been very quiet for the next couple of days. Days passed and he made her favorite dessert, a pineapple upside cake, and she managed to push the embarrassing thoughts from her mind.

So, still very mindful of her recent fall, he got up and made it toward the door and opened it. To his complete surprise Yunho was standing on the porch. “Yunho,” Jaejoong gasped. He had always been poor at hiding his emotions, especially when it came to Yunho. Just seeing Yunho in the halls at school could turn Jaejoong totally red these days.

Yunho said nothing to Jaejoong and looked past him to Aunt Bessie in her recliner; she had started stirring after the knock on the door. “Mrs. Kimble, my dad and I cleared the snow from your driveway.”

“That’s mighty kind of you,” Aunt Bessie told him. “Do you want to come in?”

“That won’t be necessary, but thank you for the offer,” Yunho answered, still avoiding Jaejoong’s gaze.

“I would love to!” Mr. Jung declared, grabbing his son by the arm and dragging him inside the Kimble house with him.

“Even if you are religious man, you are one of the best men I have ever known, Changmin Jung,” Aunt Bessie told Mr. Jung, blessing him with a genuine smile.

Mr. Jung smiled back at Aunt Bessie, touched by her words, and told her, “Those words mean so much to me. I know it cost you dearly to admit them.”

“It did, but JJ is always telling me I am softening in my old age.”

“Ah, our JJ,” Mr. Jung said warmly as he turned to look at Jaejoong. Jaejoong was still standing at the doorway gawking at Yunho. “Woman! Do you not feed this boy?” Mr. Jung hollered, and before Jaejoong knew what was happening Mr. Jung was pulling him back toward the couch. “He looks so frail. How is he even managing to stand?”

“Feed him? Are you kidding me? There is enough food in that kitchen to feed an army. As long as he can breathe, he is cooking. He just won’t eat,” Aunt Bessie told Mr. Jung, defending herself. “If I was stronger I would stuff it in his mouth.”

Mr. Jung sat down beside Jaejoong and informed him, “I will gladly stuff food in your mouth.”

The look in Mr. Jung’s eyes let Jaejoong know he wasn’t kidding. “I’m sick.”

“He is sick. He’s had a fever for days,” Aunt Bessie confirmed.

Mr. Jung had his hand up covering Jaejoong’s forehead, feeling for a fever. “He’s hot like fire. Yunho was worried about him. He said JJ had missed a whole week of school.”

“I wasn’t worried!” Yunho grumbled under his breath, still standing in the doorway.

Jaejoong tried really hard not to smile, but Mr. Jung winked at him and continued, “Really Yunho? Whose idea was it to shovel their driveway? Who insisted on knocking on the door to tell them what we had done? Wouldn’t it have been more gracious to not take credit for our good deed? But of course, we could not have checked on JJ if we had done that.”

“Dad,” Yunho protested, avoiding Jaejoong’s gaze.

“You know it’s the truth, my son,” Mr. Jung told his son and turned to Aunt Bessie. “JJ needs to go to the doctor. We will take him first thing in the morning.”

“I really don’t need—”

“Shut up, Jaejoong,” Yunho hissed. “You are going to the doctor!”

Jaejoong looked up at Yunho who was now looking at him, in fact looking really annoyed at him, but at least he was looking at him. Jaejoong didn’t say anything. It had been so long since he had heard Yunho call him by his name that he was feeling tearful.

“I should have called you or Mrs. Jung days ago because I am not able to take him myself anymore. Not since I fell. I would be too afraid to drive and he won’t drive himself. He’s says he is fine.”

“You fell?” Mr. Jung asked concerned.

Aunt Bessie nodded her head. “Yes, poor JJ had to pick me up…it was horrible. He’s been so concerned about me. You know he’s a terribly sensitive child, he takes things to heart too much.”

“I am leaving,” Yunho announced and walked out of the house, trying to steady his hands; he couldn’t bear to hear another word.

As soon as the door shut, Aunt Bessie asked, “Was he really worried about my JJ?”

Mr. Jung wrapped a comforting arm around Jaejoong and answered, “Indeed he was. You two will be best friends again in no time.”

Jaejoong gave Mr. Jung a small smile, but he knew it wasn’t true. Maybe Yunho didn’t hate him, and maybe Yunho was concerned for him…but they could never be friends again. The distance between them was too great, the differences too extreme.


“So you don’t want your mom to be happy?”

Laura sighed and admitted, “I want her to be happy. I just don’t want somebody else in my house.”

Jaejoong, who was sprawled out on picnic blanket in the park, told his friend, “Some people need to be loved.”

“I know that, but she isn’t one of them. I promise if they got married he would start trying to tell her what to do, and you don’t do that with my mom. I just hope she realizes it sooner than later. I think she has convinced herself she is somebody she isn’t. It’s really annoying, because I know the real her.”

“Maybe she could make it work…maybe she could change?”

Laura snorted. “People can’t change, although I know you dream of somebody changing.”

“Let’s not talk about him,” Jaejoong replied, frowning. Yunho was not a topic he wanted to discuss. He thought enough about Yunho, without talking about him.

Laura, who was sitting beside her friend, looked down at him. “I know you miss him.”

Jaejoong squeezed his eyes shut, pushing away the deep yearning that echoed throughout his body and soul. “It’s getting better.”

“Well, if you mean by getting better that you are no longer starving yourself, then yes it is getting better, although you are still way too thin.”

Jaejoong sat up and defensively told her, “I’ve always been skinny! I am much better.”

And he was, even if he still had to make himself eat. Since the day Mr. Jung and Yunho had shoveled his aunt’s driveway free of snow, Jaejoong had found a new inner strength or maybe it had been all the antibiotics he had been forced to take. The next day after Mr. Jung and Yunho’s visit, Mrs. Jung had driven him to the doctor, and then she had personally overseen his recovery. She had also insisted that his aunt get home health. The home health nurses were great and they lightened Jaejoong’s burden a lot, helping him care for his aunt.

“You look better, I will give you that, but I know you miss him.”

“I will always miss him. I look forward to the start of our junior year just so I can see him more, but no matter how much I wish things were different, they aren’t. I have to accept that.”

“Wow; that sounds really mature.”

“Doesn’t it,” Jaejoong agreed. “If I could just fall out of love with my straight best friend, everything would be perfect.”

“I don’t think he actually qualifies as your best friend anymore,” Laura pointed out as she opened up the picnic basket.

Jaejoong’s expression went slack as he realized the truth of her words. “I guess you are right.”

Laura popped a deviled egg in her mouth and gave Jaejoong a sympathetic look as she quickly swallowed the egg. “I know I’m a poor substitute, but I will be your best friend.”

“What about Jennifer?”

“I can have more than one best friend, and Jennifer is too busy for me most of the time, now that I am not her personal chauffer.”

“Our old best friends suck,” Jaejoong declared.

Laura laughed and announced, “Then the two of us will just have to show them what real best friends are like. We will be friends forever.”

“Ha! I have heard that before,” Jaejoong told her as he fell back on the blanket.

“Just don’t fall in love with me and our friendship will be safe,” Laura teased, grabbing for another egg.

“No chance of that.”

“Poor JJ; his heart only beats for the one it can’t have.”

“I’m pitiful.”

“Yep, you sure are, but these eggs are delicious. What did you—” Laura stopped talking as familiar faces entered the park. “Speaking of the devil...”

Jaejoong sat up suddenly, knowing instinctively what she was referring to. In the distance, on the field where people played sports, familiar faces had emerged. “Oh, they are going to play soccer!”

“We should go,” Laura told the dreamy looking Jaejoong.

Jaejoong’s eyes were glued to Yunho, who was tossing around a soccer ball. He was with DongWoo, Rob, and a few other friends. “When did Jennifer and Yunho make up?” Jaejoong asked as he saw the familiar blonde with Yunho and his friends.

“Oh, did I forget to tell you about that?” Laura asked, innocently. “Apparently they ran into each other at Shelly’s pool party and are kinda going out.”

A shell-shocked Jaejoong stared at Yunho and Jennifer. “He called her a bitch! My friendship with Yunho ended over what we did to Mandy! How could he forgive her?”

Laura just shook her head, and reminded Jaejoong, “Your friendship ended because you are gay.”

Jaejoong paled.

“If you weren’t gay, you and Yunho would still be the best of friends. Neither Mandy Lewis nor anyone else could have come between you. Once you admitted it to him…he couldn’t deny it anymore. You are just lucky he didn’t tell the whole world.”

Jaejoong looked at Yunho longingly. “Do you think he hates me?”

“No, he hates that you are gay.”

“I can’t help it.”

“I know it, but some people are idiots and think it can be helped, cured, or suppressed. I know you love Yunho’s family, but the Jungs think like that. They go to a church…Mr. Jung is the deacon in a church that thinks homosexuality is a sin,” Laura explained to Jaejoong. “Yunho is decent enough that he didn’t tell his family. They would probably try to kidnap you and send you to a camp where they do mind control on you till you think you are straight.”

“Maybe I should just volunteer to go? My life would be a whole lot easier.”

Laura whacked Jaejoong’s arm. “Maybe you should just have a brain lobotomy at the same time.”

“Maybe I should.”

“Or maybe we should just leave,” Laura stated as she stood up. “Mooning over him from a distance does you no good.”

Jaejoong looked up at her pitifully. “Am I mooning?”


“I’m getting up,” Jaejoong grumbled as he climbed to his feet, grabbing the picnic basket.

“Self-respect is important,” Laura said, encouraging Jaejoong as she gathered up the blanket. “If you don’t respect yourself, nobody else will.”

“Okay,” Jaejoong agreed, but his eyes were glued back on Yunho, who was busy playing soccer with his friends.

“Argh!” Laura growled, grabbing Jaejoong and dragging him away.

Jaejoong allowed himself to be pulled away by his well-meaning friend. He knew she was a true friend. He was lucky to have her…but it just wasn’t the same.

“Wait! Wait! Guys, wait!” The familiar voice of Jennifer could be heard yelling.

Laura and Jaejoong turned around to find Jennifer racing up to them. “Jennifer,” Laura called out.

“Where are you guys going?” A breathless Jennifer asked as she approached them.

“We were leaving,” Laura explained.

Jennifer frowned, but the moment she looked at Jaejoong she instantly brightened, “I love your hair!”

Jaejoong couldn’t help but smile as he reached up to touch his hair. He had saved his money to pay for the cut. “You like it? I told them I wanted a razored crop, but it didn’t turn out exactly how I imagined.”

“It’s freaking fabulous! Your hair is so thick. If I was a boy I would totally have your hair…hell, I want it now,” Jennifer declared, taking out her phone. “I have to take a picture of it. Where did you get it done?”

“In Krinkton,” Jaejoong quickly answered.

“He paid a stylist $200 for it. I thought he was insane at the time, but even I have to admit it’s awesome,” Laura added.

“Oh, it was totally worth it—wait, when did you two go to Krinkton without me?” Jennifer demanded.

Laura winced guiltily and confessed, “Last week…you were with Yunho.”

“I would have totally dumped Yunho for a Krinkton shopping trip!” Jennifer said, pouting. “I can’t believe your mom let you go!”

“She kinda took us…JJ catered a dinner for her and I helped out, so it was our reward,” Laura explained. “I would have told you, but you would have only talked about Yunho and you know how dreary he gets when he thinks about his old friend.”

“True,” Jennifer agreed, giving Jaejoong a sad smile. “Least you have awesome hair.”

Jaejoong couldn’t keep from chuckling. Jennifer could be totally ruthless at times, but he couldn’t keep from liking her—which was very strange considering she was going out with Yunho.

“Well, as long as he has cool hair, all is well in the world,” Laura said, mocking Jennifer.

Jennifer grabbed Jaejoong by the arms and asked, “Do you have any money left?”

“Yeah,” Jaejoong said, wondering if she was about to ask him for money.

Jennifer let go of him and clapped her hands in excitement. “I saw a pair of jeans at the mall that are totally worthy of that marvelous hair! Plus, they will totally make your ass look hot!”

“Let’s go,” Jaejoong agreed, eager to go shopping. He knew he should start paying more attention to his clothing. Jennifer had great taste in clothes, and she was always great to shop with.

“Jennifer, aren’t you forgetting something?” Laura asked the excited Jennifer.


“Your boyfriend?” Laura asked her friend, while pointing at Yunho. “Aren’t you supposed to be here with him? Cheering him on? Being the dutiful girlfriend?”

Jennifer turned around to look at Yunho, who was busy playing ball. “He will find me more interesting if I ditch him to go shopping with you guys; plus it will teach him not to use me.”

“He’s using you?” Jaejoong asked, startled. It wasn’t like Yunho to use people.

“He’s using you for sex, isn’t he?” Laura said in disapproval.

Jennifer started laughing. “Have you seen his body? He wouldn’t have to use me. Believe me; I am volunteering myself all the time.”

Jaejoong frowned. “Then how is he using you?”

Jennifer grimaced and told Jaejoong, “That isn’t important. It’s nothing major…I shouldn’t have said he is using me. Forget I said that; let’s go shopping.”

“Okay,” Jaejoong said, nodding his head.

Jennifer turned back to Yunho and screamed, “Yunho, I am going shopping with JJ and Laura! Try not to miss me too much!”

Jaejoong watched as Yunho stopped playing ball to look toward Jennifer. He knew he should turn away but he didn’t.

“Have fun!” Yunho yelled back at Jennifer but his eyes were glued to Jaejoong.

Jaejoong felt his heart flutter as he maintained eye contact with Yunho. There was something in Yunho’s eyes, and Jaejoong wondered if Yunho missed him too. Jaejoong felt his legs moving toward Yunho, but just as quickly he felt himself being pulled backwards as Laura jerked him back around. Before he had time to protest, Jennifer and Laura each had him by an arm. He let them lead him away, and he didn’t know if he should be grateful or sad.

Did Yunho really miss him, or was it just wishful thinking on his part? Did the girls just spare him from embarrassing himself more than he had already? If Yunho missed him, surely he knew all he had to do was let him know, and everything would be forgotten. Jaejoong would do anything if it meant having Yunho in his life again. He would do anything for Yunho; be whatever Yunho needed him to be.


                                                        Five Years Earlier

Jim sat across from Jaejoong at the lunch table at Red Fern High School and announced, “Cindy Leaderman is my true love.”

Laura, who was sitting beside Jaejoong asked, “Wasn’t Eunji Kim your true love yesterday?”

Jim sipped on his milk and agreed, “Yes, but that was yesterday.”

“You are a pig,” Laura told him as she picked at her salad.

Jaejoong, who was ignoring his lunch while he used Laura’s make-up mirror to gaze at himself while wearing her glasses, protested, “He isn’t really. He’s all talk.”

“Yeah,” Jim declared in his defense. “In truth, I’m really a deep guy.”

Laura shrugged and had to concede, “You are deeper than most, I will give you that.”

Jim grinned. “Really?”

Laura pointed to the primping Jaejoong. “In order for you to be friends with this gay boy, you have to be slightly evolved.”

“Oh, I don’t care he’s gay. He can have an animal fetish for all I care, as long as he feeds me once in awhile.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “I take it back, you are a pig.”

“Hey, do I look smarter in these glasses?” Jaejoong asked as he sat the mirror down and looked at them.

“No,” both Jim and Laura told him.

Jaejoong frowned. “I don’t?”

“No,” Laura answered. “You know what would make you look smarter? Studying!”

Jaejoong groaned and picked up the mirror again. “I am a more hands-on person. I wasn’t meant to study. I like doing stuff.”

“You almost flunked out of school last year. This is the start of a whole new year and you are going to study,” Laura told him firmly.

Jim chuckled, and told them, “Or you are going to have to become Yunho’s friend again.”

Laura kicked Jim underneath the table for mentioning the forbidden name, and snapped, “JJ can do his own homework. He’s not stupid. He doesn’t need you know who to do his homework!”

Jim, who was wincing as he held his knee, snapped, “I know that! He just gets distracted.”

Laura turned to watch Jaejoong who was staring at the mirror longingly and hissed, “Like now. You mentioned the unmentionable one and now he is—JJ, are you spying on Yunho?”

“No,” Jaejoong lied as he used the mirror to gaze at Yunho, who was sitting at the back of the cafeteria with a group of his friends.

Laura snatched her mirror away, and scolded, “You can’t do this. This is no good for you.”

“I was looking at a zit!”

“You don’t have zits!”

Jaejoong rubbed his smooth cheek. “I thought I felt a bump.”

“You can not spend your entire junior year mooning over that jerk! He isn’t worth it!” Laura forcefully told Jaejoong.

Jim, who was watching them both closely, spoke up, “To be fair, Yunho isn’t a jerk.”

“How can you say that?” Laura demanded. “You saw what he did to JJ.”

“Honestly, what did he do? All he did was not return his feelings. Put yourself in Yunho’s shoes for a bit, would you? What if Jennifer was suddenly madly in love with you? Wouldn’t it be awkward for you?”

“No, I would—”

“You don’t know what you would do,” Jim said, interrupting Laura. “Especially if you were raised by Yunho’s parents and taught since birth that homosexuality is wrong.”

Laura folded her arms, and relented, “Perhaps you have a point, but he could have been…he could have handled it better.”

“You need to give him a break. He’s cool. I have been to a lot of schools and this one is by far the best. This place isn’t cliquey at all. In ninth grade it wasn’t great here but that was because the older kids were still here. Yunho is a big reason for why everybody gets along. He doesn’t allow bullying, and he gets along with the jocks and the nerds. He’s the star of every sport there is, and he’s the top student at the school. He could have made it a lot worse for JJ.”

Jaejoong, who was listening to Jim brag about Yunho stated, “See, Jim is totally deep.”

“Or he is crushing on Yunho, too,” Laura quipped.

“I am just saying, he could have made it way worse for our favorite gay boy,” Jim told Laura, while discreetly flipping her off. “That JJ starved himself and almost pined himself to death…that’s on JJ.”

Laura sighed and agreed, “That I agree with, and that’s why JJ has to focus on something else.”

“Not homework!” Jaejoong exclaimed.

Laura gave Jaejoong a displeased look. “No, not homework…although you have to focus on it, too.”

“What then?” Jim asked.

Laura lowered her head and whispered, “Porn.”

“What!” Jaejoong gasped, jerking back in his seat.

Jim gave his best smarmy smile and said approvingly, “Now that is what I am talking about! I have a whole stash of magazines…I might loan him some. For like a day; you can only have them for a day. One at a time.”

“Not that kind of porn…some man on man action,” Laura said, continuing to whisper.

Jim snarled, leaning back in his chair. “Okay, not interested in this conversation anymore.”

Laura told the dumbfounded Jaejoong, “I know you don’t have a computer. All you really know about being gay is that you love Yunho…I think you need to learn a little more about the act. Like how it is done.”

“Oh, God!” Jim groaned, flinging his hands up to cover his ears.

Jaejoong just stared at Laura completely speechless.

“I was talking to mom about how you were really alone in your homosexuality, and how you don’t have anybody to talk to about it,” Laura explained.

A wide-eyed horrified Jaejoong managed to sputter, “You...talked…to your…mom…about my…me…being…gay?”

“Yes, I did. You know my mom is totally cool and she adores you. So she was telling me how a lot of young gay boys end up with diseases because they are not properly educated, because they don’t have the proper resources. Since you don’t have a computer, you can’t really do any kind of research. So mom ordered you some books and stuff, and I helped her pick some of it out.”

Jim slid his hands down to uncover his ears, thunderstruck. “Your mom ordered JJ gay porn?”

“Yep,” Laura answered. “And a lot of informative material; she doesn’t want him dying of AIDs.”

Jaejoong just sat in his chair motionless, praying the cafeteria’s floor would open up and swallow him whole.

“Hey, back to Earth,” Laura told Jaejoong, snapping her fingers to get his attention. “I also got her to order some Japanese Yaoi.”

“What?” Jaejoong managed to get out.

“It’s homosexual anime and it’s hot. I watched some, and it’s awesome. You can come over to my house and we can watch it after school. I can also give you all the stuff we ordered for you,” Laura informed him in a matter of fact manner.

“I am not watching porn with you!”

Jim started cackling, trying his best not to fall out of his chair. The look of horror on Jaejoong’s face was too funny for the boy to handle.

“Oh,” Laura gasped, realizing it might be awkward. “Well, you don’t have a TV in your room, and if your Aunt Bessie saw it she might have a stroke.”

“She sleeps! When she takes her Xanax, she really sleeps.”

“Okay, okay,” Laura relented, holding up her hands. “You can just come pick it up today.”

Jaejoong nodded his head; he couldn’t help but being curious. “But we can never speak of it again.”

“Yes, never again,” a still chuckling Jim agreed.

“I want to know—”

“No! No!” Jaejoong shrieked, interrupting Laura. “Never again!”

Laura frowned, disappointed. “I am not promising anything, but you do owe my mom a cake.”

“What kind of cake?” Jaejoong asked.

“She doesn’t care. I think she was joking about it anyway but if you baked a cake…she’d be more likely to offer to order you more stuff.”

“Well, I will watch it and then decide what kind of a cake I’m going to bake for her.”

“If it’s a wedding cake, we will know he liked it,” Jim joked.

“Oh, I love to make wedding cakes! I need to practice with them more,” Jaejoong exclaimed, lighting up at the thought of baking wedding cakes. “There is going to be contest at the fair! I was thinking about entering! I will make her one. They are so challenging to bake. The flavoring though…what about a Mocha Wedding cake? I know your mom loves coffee and chocolate. Or I could make a Chocolate Kumquat Cake, because it seems more challenging, and I have wanted to make one for so long. Which do you think she would like best?”

“You are such a gay dork,” Jim told Jaejoong, shaking his head. “But I’m always here, ready to be your official taste tester.”

“You are as crazy as you are gay! If you make my mom a wedding cake, I will whack you! You might give her ideas!” Laura snapped. “I have only been trying to talk her out of marriage for the last four months! Are you delusional?”

Jaejoong scooted his chair away from an irritated Laura and immediately bumped into someone. He slowly turned around to gaze up at Yunho, who was standing behind him. Jaejoong blinked; surely his eyes must be deceiving him. “It must be the glasses,” Jaejoong said under his breath, removing the glasses, but to his surprise Yunho was still there.

Jaejoong turned to Laura and asked, “Am I hallucinating?”

“No,” Laura said, shaking her head and demanded, “What do you want, Yunho?”

Yunho walked over to the other side of the table and sat down next to Jim. “I assure you, Laura, I want nothing from you.”

“Aren’t I blessed?” Laura snapped back at him.

“Laura!” Jaejoong warned.

Yunho hissed, under his breath, “So, do you two always talk about Jaejoong being gay for the whole school to hear?”

“The whole school didn’t hear us. Only you heard because you were sneaking up on us,” Laura told Yunho, undaunted.

Jaejoong’s eyes were locked on Yunho as his heart pounded in his ears. How long had it been since Yunho had called him Jaejoong. Not since that day Yunho and his dad shoveled Aunt Bessie’s driveway. To hear his name spoken from Yunho’s lips, how he had missed it.

“I wasn’t sneaking up on you,” Yunho denied.

“It’s true,” Jaejoong agreed, finding his tongue, and trying his best to not look so infatuated. “Yunho is very light on his feet. He used to sneak up on me and Ringo all the time.”

“I usually meant to do that though,” Yunho admitted, looking at Jaejoong, who was trying his best to act cool. “But I wasn’t sneaking up now.”

Jaejoong just smiled at Yunho, wondering what he had done to earn Yunho’s attention today. His attempts to remain cool were quickly losing ground, but a sharp pinch to his side had him snapping out of dreamland quickly.

Jaejoong turned to cast an accusing glare at Laura, but she was focused on Yunho.

“So what do you want?” Laura asked.

Yunho ignored her question and asked, “So you both know that he is…that he is gay?”

“Duh,” Jim answered.

Yunho stared at Jim, surprised, and questioned, “Are you…are you gay, too?”

“Nope,” Jim answered honestly.

Laura smiled proudly at Jim. “Jim might look like a sloppy pig, but he’s actually a very open minded person. Not a primitive Neanderthal like some. Oh, and I’m not gay either. I just enjoy being around JJ.”

Yunho took in Laura’s words and looked back to the table where he had been sitting and asked, “Does Jennifer know?”

“No,” Laura answered. “She adores JJ, but all that would change if she knew he was gay.”

“Would it really?” Jaejoong asked glumly.

Laura looked at Jaejoong and explained, “You are prettier than her. If she knew you liked guys too, she’d see you as competition.”

Jaejoong’s eyes widened and he said fearfully, “She must never find out.” Jaejoong had seen how Jennifer handled her rivals and he never wanted to be on the wrong side of her.

Yunho stood up from the table, looked down at Jaejoong and told him, “My parents wanted me to ask you to do them a favor.”

“Oh, you wanted something, that’s why you deemed your old friend worthy of your attention,” Laura smarted back to Yunho. “What can he do for you and your family now? Well, other than be himself?”

“Laura, stop it,” Jaejoong hissed under his breath.

Yunho ignored Laura and told Jaejoong, “Some machinery broke down at the factory and they have to go out of town and pick up some parts. Gertrude is in Vegas, and they wanted to know if you can watch Hana and Junsu after school.”

“Sure!” Jaejoong answered without a second’s hesitation.

“Cool,” Yunho told him and then added, “I have football practice after school, and then I have plans I couldn’t get out of.”

“No problem,” Jaejoong reassured Yunho. “I love watching them.”

Laura’s arms wrapped around Jaejoong and she squeezed him tightly and told him, “I feel so honored.”

Jaejoong turned to her confused. “Huh?”

“That you consider me such a true friend.”

“Huh?” Jaejoong repeated.

“We had plans, remember?” Laura told Jaejoong. “But unlike Yunho, you know that our friendship is solid. You know that you can dump me to go serve the Jungs and we will still be friends tomorrow. You know that our friendship isn’t conditional.”

Yunho was unable to keep from flinching, but he kept his voice even as he told Jaejoong, “They said they will be home around eight.”

Jaejoong, who had been glaring at Laura, turned away from her to look up at Yunho apologetically. “That’s fine.”

“Okay, and thanks,” Yunho told Jaejoong, and then he turned around and walked back to his table.

“You are such a bitch sometimes,” Jim told Laura.

“So what if I am?” Laura said in her defense. “Somebody needs to get through to him. Did you see the way he was looking at JJ? He’s knows he’s being an ass, and I can tell he misses him.”

Jaejoong was trembling with so much anger he didn’t hear a word Laura had said. “I know you think you are looking out for me…but you don’t understand. You just don’t know. The Jungs…I love them all. I know you think they are prejudiced, but you just don’t understand. You don’t know how they...they are the best. You don’t know how they always took care of me…looked out for me. They include me in their family. They treat me like I’m their son. Yunho…Yunho…he might make me sad, but that’s my fault. I make him sad, too. Don’t be mean to him, ever. We can’t be friends if you are mean to him. His friends aren’t mean to me!”

“I’m sorry…I am sorry, but…I’ll be better,” Laura promised as she stared at her friend, who was trembling in rage. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Jim, who was watching Jaejoong uncomfortably, told Laura, “Well, you did.”

“I’m really sorry,” Laura pleaded. “I won’t even say the Y word again. Okay?”

Jaejoong nodded his head, and handed Laura back her glasses. “I hate being like this.”

“I know you do,” Laura told him. “Sometimes I don’t know when to shut up.”

“Nope,” Jim agreed.

Laura darted her eyes to Jim and then back to Jaejoong. “I’ve never cared for anybody like you care for him. I’ll try to be more understanding from now on.”

Jaejoong’s trembling eased and he explained, “I don’t want him to feel like he can’t…can’t talk to me. I want him to feel like we can talk—without you attacking him.”

“JJ, I’m so sorry, I am an idiot,” Laura told Jaejoong, wrapping an arm around him. “I will find him and apologize. I promise.”

Jaejoong looked at her with big hopeful eyes. “You will?”

“I will,” Laura vowed.

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