Title: and i hope I’ll meet you, sooner or later
Word Count: ~4,000 words
Summary: Jongin starts and ends each day with the stroke of a brush on white canvas.
Author's Note: This was originally going to be something else entirely, but I decided to change it last minute. It’s probably lighter than you were expecting, but I hope you enjoy!
“What can I get for you today?”
“Enjoy your drink.”
The grating, high-pitched voice of the cashier at the register (Subject 21) and the mellow, honeyed voice of the barista (Subject 15, if Jongin remembers correctly), are the only voices that cut clear above the low thrum of the café.
Jongin watches as the waves of customers pass in and out the front doors of the coffee shop, glass panels smudged with handprints, the stainless steel handle held by countless people, the one thing interconnecting the threads of life of people who are essentially strangers.
At least, that’s what Jongin likes to tell himself. Wishful thinking.
Today was a particularly uneventful day, the amount of customers reduced in favor of avoiding the blustery weather. Most of the usual patrons haven’t even come by, and none of the few stragglers that wandered into the café caught Jongin’s eye.
The dark outlines of raindrops on the pavement right outside of the window kindly remind Jongin of the umbrella left sitting on the sofa in his apartment, a good two kilometers away, and he abruptly stands up, muttering as he shoves his belongings into a small black rucksack and pushes past the doors, ducking his head into his scarf.
At the corner between the third and fourth block to his house, Jongin crashes into a person in a black trench coat and stumbles backwards, his bag landing into a small puddle in the process. He regains his balance as he picks it back up, not bothering to look up. Fresh panic boils up in his stomach as water soaks into the cloth in patches.
“Whoa, I’m sorry, are you o– “
Jongin shakes his head. “Oh, no, it’s fine, it’s my fault. I’m sorry, but I really have to run-“
The stranger raises his arm, seeming to want to say something in response, but Jongin bows and rushes past him before he can say anything.
When he gets home, clothes and hair soaked but his sketchbook thankfully dry, Jongin realizes that he never did see the stranger’s face.
At six in the evening, Jongin begins to work.
He paints in soft downward strokes, layering tones of beige over faint gray lines. The process of painting has always been natural to him, paint seemingly flowing without effort from the tip of the paintbrush.
He is in the middle of painting the shadows of the smooth curve of a jaw when the doorbell rings, snapping him out of his daze. He rests the paintbrush on the easel, running his fingers along the left ridge of the canvas out of habit before heading towards the door.
A tall, figure with jet-black hair and sharp eyes greets him with a broad smile.
He moves aside to let the other stride past him and watches as he settles on the armchair. “Tao, why are you here?” He asks, confused.
“I’m here to check up on you,” Tao says. “And not as your art dealer, as your friend,” he pauses, gaze flickering to the half-completed painting on the easel. “Actually, both, if you wouldn’t mind. This painting is new, isn’t it?”
Jongin doesn’t really expect to form bonds with the people who he draws, but one thing is for certain; he doesn’t regret when he’d asked to draw the café patron who was glowering at the corner - number thirteen - and managed to get himself both an employer and a best friend.
“Yeah, “ Jongin affirms. “It’s one of the people on the train,” he explains, eyes glancing over the figure on the canvas. Jongin recalls it from a few days before. A sleeping stranger, leaning heavily against the side of the train, his right cheek pressed against the window. He had one earphone in, partially covered by pale, bubblegum pink strands.
“Odd choice of hair color,” Tao comments, “but to each their own, I suppose.” Tao glances over the painting a few more times, as if examining it. Jongin curls into himself, unused to the intense scrutiny of his work, before Tao speaks up again. “Do you think they’re the one you’re looking for?”
Jongin startles at the question. He shakes his head. “I don’t - I don’t think so.” He scratches the nape of his neck. “How did you know I’m looking for someone?”
Tao shrugs. “Your paintings have this certain quality to them. I can’t quite explain it. It’s like - it’s almost as if you’re searching for something, but you can’t quite find it yet. It feels whole, yet somehow incomplete. It’s part of their charm, though I’m sure they’ll be equally as excellent when you do end up finding whoever it is you’re looking for. Who knows? Maybe you’ve already met them.”
Jongin laughs and thanks Tao for the encouragement.
The next day, Jongin takes an alternate route to the café.
It remains an integral part of Jongin’s routine, avoiding heading on the same pathways. He’d avoided going to the same destinations, once, but he’d been quickly reminded that there were only so many places in the city that he could freely draw people in. Besides, the café has slowly grown to become one of Jongin’s favorite places, the warm ambience bringing in a diverse range of people and new sources of inspiration.
He gets off the train two stops earlier and walks the rest of the way, crossing over a section of the city park in the process. The slight autumn breeze is cool against his skin. Jongin takes a deep breath in, inhaling the crisp, fresh scent of fallen leaves. His eyes drink up the bold red and yellow colors on the tree leaves, a stark contrast to the mellow tones of his works. It is a welcome difference.
Jongin almost makes it all the way through the park, the café visible in the background, when a person on the left side of the pathway catches his attention. A person is setting up to play an instrument, a guitar player from the looks of the case. Something about him draws Jongin’s eyes to him, and Jongin decides he has found his subject for today.
He approaches slowly, hesitating for a bit before asking, “Excuse me, would you mind if I drew a picture of you?”
The stranger turns aside in surprise before glancing up at him. “Oh, hey, it’s you again!”
“I ran into you yesterday- literally. Sorry about that. Is your stuff okay? Your bag fell into the puddle.”
Jongin racks through his memories and finally recalls yesterday’s run-in. “Oh, trench coat… guy.” Trench coat guy. Very smooth. Jongin cringes in embarrassment on the inside.
“…I guess I do wear those a lot,” Stranger laughs, “So I can see why you could call me that. My name’s Chanyeol, though.” He grins broadly at Jongin. “Are you an artist?”
Jongin nods his head.
“Hmm, well, I wouldn’t really mind if you did. I’ll be moving a lot, though. You know, playing an instrument and such. Are you sure you want to draw me? I’m sure there are better subjects out there.”
Jongin gives a small smile in response. “That should be fine. Besides, you seem interesting.”
“Thanks, “ Chanyeol laughs. “Well, I’ll be right here. Just keep doing your thing, and I’ll do mine.”
Just like his instincts said, Chanyeol does end up being an interesting subject. Jongin spends the rest of the morning and a portion of the afternoon sketching the outline of the guitarist on the pages of his sketchbook. He finds himself moving along to the music on more than one occasion.
He finishes drawing the final details of Chanyeol’s coat just moments before the other stops playing, packs up, and begins to walk towards him.
“Are you done?” Chanyeol asks. “Sorry, it’s just that… I need to leave soon, and I didn’t know if that would bother you, or - ”
“Oh, it’s fine, I just finished, “ Jongin replies. “Besides, you don’t need my permission to leave, you know.”
“Sorry, I’m not really used to this whole ‘subject’ thing works,” Chanyeol says sheepishly. “Can I see your drawing? I mean, if you want me to.”
Jongin raises his eyebrows up in surprise and clutches at the sketchbook a little harder, pulls it in a little closer before realizing how closed off and tense he must look and tries to relax a little bit. He shakes his head. “No, not yet. I’ve finished sketching, but I still need to paint it.” He looks down. “Besides, if I’d like it if you saw the finished product instead.”
“Oh, okay then. Well, see you soon! Hopefully,” Chanyeol says, waving Jongin goodbye before turning away and heading down the path towards the main street, presumably headed to the bus terminal.
Jongin ends his day earlier as well. He hums a tune on his way home.
The scent of fresh-brewed coffee permeates the warm spaces of Jongin’s apartment as he works towards midnight, pale moonlight settling into empty corners, the only sounds that of paint on canvas and water passing through the aerator.
He shifts twice on his chair, maple wood scratching against the dark red of the hardwood floor. He frowns when he lifts the paintbrush off of the canvas, the newly placed streak not quite blending with the rest of the painting. A few shades too dark, a tad too much olive. He sighs, placing the brush on the easel and makes his way towards the kitchen, pouring himself yet another another mug full of coffee.
He stops by the aquarium beside his sink on his way back, the lone pair of goldfish lazily swimming around. “I haven’t fed you guys yet, have I?”
“I’m a terrible owner. I don’t know why you two even like me.” Jongin grabs the container of fish food from behind the spice rack and shakes a generous amount into the tank.
He watches as the two fish, a pure orange one named Chen, and one with a silvery streak running along its side named Suho quickly swim their way up to the top and pulling down bits of fish flakes as they eat. “Actually, never mind. I think you just like me when I have food,” Jongin says.
Jongin shuts the opening of the aquarium and walks back to the painting of the student sleeping on the train. He picks it apart with his gaze for at least ten minutes, scrutinizing minute details, before eventually giving up and stopping for the night.
A growing headache roots itself in his head and he falls face down on the couch. He looks over solemnly at the unfinished painting one last time before burying his face into the soft orange cushions and mumbling incoherently.
Worn cotton fibers press against his cheek when he shifts again, facing the back of the couch instead. The painting itself looks normal – the colors melding together in a soft gradient, rich tones interweaving. A regular passerby would be unable to tell that something was wrong.
It’s not the actual piece itself – it’s the feeling that it gives off. Whereas the sleeping boy on the train gave off a lighter, casual feeling, this painting is more reminiscent of the guitarist at the park. Blue undertones for the strum of the guitar, a deeper brown for the color of his voice.
Jongin falls asleep to the colors of coffee and azure.
“You’re here again. Don’t you usually go to the café?”
“I’d like to draw you, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Again?” Chanyeol cocks his head.
“Yes. Would that be okay?” Jongin drops a neatly folded twenty dollar bill into the open instrument case in front of him.
Chanyeol looks down at the case and back at Jongin, furrowing his eyebrows slightly. “Are you trying to bribe me so I would say yes to that question?”
“What…?” Jongin pauses. “No, I’m not! I – ” Heat rushes to his cheeks and the blank look Chanyeol is giving him is not helping to ease his nerves in any way. “I just figured that since I would just be sitting here when I draw you anyways, I might as well pay you for your time – ”
His protests fade to a whimper under the weight of Chanyeol’s stare, eventually stopping altogether, an awkward silence and a case with twenty dollars in it caught in the middle.
Jongin briefly considers just apologizing and walking away to avoid further embarrassment when Chanyeol’s façade cracks and he breaks into a bright smile, chuckling lightly. “I’m just joking.”
Chanyeol brushes away the fallen yellow leaves to his right and pats the empty spot of pavement next to him. “Here, come sit next to me, uh – ” Chanyeol scrunches his eyebrows. “Hm, I never got your name.”
“Jongin. I’ll keep that in mind, then.”
Dull brass hinges on a wooden chest squeak in protest as the lid swings open, a loud crack splitting through the air when the chest refuses to open any further. A thin, worn piece of cloth turned yellow with age covers a stack of canvases, sending up a small cloud of dust as Jongin pulls it off.
A pang of nostalgia hits him as he looks back at paintings he finished when he was younger. The same earthen colors he uses nowadays, but watered down, littered with too-dark reds and discordant blues and harsh yellows. It’s noticeable that he’s improved quite a lot from then when you compare it with his more recent works. Pieces that Jongin likes from this chest in the attic are few and far in between.
Jongin finds a pile of unfinished sketches, sifting through them. Many are still-life sketches, something he fancied drawing. He smiles and slightly shakes his head as he flips past pages of oddly proportioned grapes and until he stops at one particular page.
A young boy dressed in flowing cloth reaching towards him, across what seems to be a layer of water. It’s the piece that influenced him to do the type of work he does today. He draws people in the hopes that someday, he’ll be able to recall the face of the boy in the sketch.
Grabbing the page, Jongin walks back to his easel and sets to work.
The door chimes ring when Jongin passes through the front of the coffee shop, a tight scowl set on his face as he notes the loud buzz of the customers and the gray and blue striped backpack taking up his usual spot beside the windows.
The scent of coffee permeating the space does nothing to alleviate his sour mood, but he forces himself to smile back as the barista notices him and gives him a soft smile in greeting.
His fingertips tap restlessly on the rungs of his sketchbook twice on the granite countertop, grabbing the attention of the cashier preoccupied with fixing a row of misaligned ceramic cups.
The cashier looks up and the sly grin he gives Jongin is unnerving. “Hello there. Getting the usual?”
Jongin nods, pulling out his wallet when the cashier glances up from inputting his order on the monitor and looks at him. “Oh, that won’t be necessary.”
Jongin gives him a confused stare in response.
“One of the previous customers paid for your drink,” the cashier (Baekhyun, according to the nametag on his apron,) supplies helpfully. “A rather dashing customer, I might add, who holds a great appreciation for art but also the artists that make them, so if you – Ow! Soo, please, I am busy here – “
“What he means is, Chanyeol came in here earlier and said he’d pay for your drink if you came in. Also, he said to tell you he won’t be coming to the park today,” the barista interrupts. “Here you go. Medium latte with molasses and a shake of cinnamon.”
“Thanks.” Jongin grabs the container of steaming coffee with a small nod, recalling the unusually empty space underneath the oak tree. “I’ll thank him the next time I see him. Do you know if he’s going to come tomorrow? I have some pieces to show him.”
“He won’t be here tomorrow. Or for the rest of the week, actually. I can give him your number, if you’d like,” Baekhyun says.
“Baek – ”
“Okay,” Jongin says, “Why not?”
“Perfect,” Baekhyun says, handing Jongin a blank sheet of white paper and winking. “I’ll get it to him as soon as I can.”
“Very nice,” Tao says, looking over at the finished painting of the boy on the train,
completely ignoring the piles of boxes and papers that litter the far wall beside the front door.
“The cool, dark colors of his clothes contrast well with his hair and the background. It’s a bit different from your usual works, but that’s fine. You wouldn’t mind if I took this off your hands, right? I like it quite a lot. I’ll pay you regular for it.”
“That’s not right, you’re my employer. Besides, I didn’t even paint it like that on purpose. Sixty-five percent discount,” Jongin argues, pouring a cup of coffee for the other.
“And you need money to live. Fifteen percent.”
“Thirty percent. And that’s already without the best friend bonus.”
“Twenty percent off of ten percent off and you have a deal,” Tao says, fingertips .
“…Okay? Isn’t that the same?”
Tao stares at him for a few seconds before shaking his head in disappointment. “I’ll have to tell you how wrong you are later. In the meantime,” he settles down on the couch, picking up and hugging one of the pillows. “Do you mind telling me more about your newest sketches? I never knew you liked guitarists so much.”
“Well,” Jongin pauses. “It’s just – ”
Tao follows Jongin’s gaze towards the painting of the boy dressed in white. “Think it’s who you’re looking for?”
“Maybe. I don’t know, but I have a slight feeling. It – ” Whatever thought Jongin was about to say next is interrupted by the blaring of his ringtone, an opera-like voice singing ‘You have a call!’.
Tao laughs. “You still have that? I set it as a joke.”
Jongin turns away, embarrassed. “I like it, okay? It’s very distinct- Oh, sorry, hello. Who am I speaking to?”
“Hi. Jongin? It’s me, Chanyeol. Hey, I’m really sorry about earlier, Baekhyun really shouldn’t have done that. I mean, it was useful, since I’m calling you right now, but if you want, I could also be not calling you right now.”
Chanyeol sighs. “Sorry, I’m not making much sense. Did you at least get a drink?”
“It’s okay, I was the one who gave my number in the first place. And you can keep my number, if that’s what you’re asking. Yes, I did. Thank you for the coffee,” Jongin replies.
Jongin ignores the increasingly interested looks Tao keeps on throwing over at him. “By the way, are you available anytime soon? I’ve completed your painting, if you’d like to see it. Though I don’t think my art style is what you’re expecting.”
“Wow, really? That’s so cool! Uh, how about… Saturday at three? Is that a good time? We can meet at the park again, if you’d like. At the usual spot.”
“That sounds fine,” Jongin smiles. “See you soon.”
“It isn’t what you expected, is it?” Jongin says, a little sheepish that he bothers using someone as a model and taking up their time, considering the lack of facial features that could be used to differentiate the subject of his sketch to any other person passing by on the streets.
Not expecting a particularly positive response, he shifts his focus to an anthill, watching small black ants scurry in and out of the mound of light brown soil.
“I’ll have to admit, it isn’t,” - Jongin’s mood sinks a little - “But, I still think it’s cool! You’re cool.” Jongin’s spirits lift a bit. He allows himself to give a small smile in response.
“I’m not very good at art,” Chanyeol admits, “So my vocabulary for compliments is a bit limited, but I do mean it when I say that I like your pieces. I can’t pick up on symbolism at all, though – if that little bit of white in the center stands for the freedom of a repressed soul or something, I’m sorry, but it’s gone completely over my head.”
“Art isn’t nearly as symbolic as teachers make it sound,” Jongin says, giving a timid smile when the other laughs. “So don’t worry about it.”
“Oh really? That’s good to know,” Chanyeol says. “I’m curious, though, is there any particular reason why you don’t draw faces?”
“My parents and I used to always go on a camping trip during the weekends. Beside where we would always travel to was a small stream. My sketchbook fell into the river. I – I went in and tried to pick it up anyway. Before I knew it, a wave of water came from upstream. I wasn’t expecting it.”
“I don’t remember much after that, but I managed to get a grip on some grass on the bank when someone pulled me up. I still can’t remember his face.” Jongin hums. “That’s why I draw. I’m trying to remember.”
“That might’ve been me.”
“When I was eleven, my family went to our vacation home for spring break. On the second week, I was roaming around the meadow when I saw another boy across the bank. I could hear a surge from upriver. I thought he could too and was about to walk away, but then he dove after it. The stream wasn’t shallow. The current swept him away. I ran along the bank after him. Eventually, he managed to hold on to the side, and I pulled him out.” Chanyeol clears his throat.
Jongin looks down at the floor, nibbling on his lower lip. “That was you?”
“I think so.”
“Thanks.” Jongin says.
“You’re welcome,” Chanyeol says. “This is really surreal. I wanted to ask you out for dinner after this, but it’s kind of weird now.”
“We can still go,” Jongin says, “As a sort of, um, celebratory-reunion dinner. If you’d like to. I wouldn’t have any problem with that.”
“That would be great.”