i'm yours tonight / pg / 5800+ words
they pretend that they're friends with benefits but they're not even friends.
Oh, how I hated this word. So pretentious, like it was always being translated from the French. The tint and taint of illicit, illegitimate affections. Dictionary meaning: a person having a love affair. Impermanent. Unfamilial. Inextricably linked to sex.
I have never wanted a lover. In order to have a lover, I must go back to the root of the word. For I have never wanted a lover, but I have always wanted to love, and to be loved.
There is no word for the recipient of the love. There is only a word for the giver. There is the assumption that lovers come in pairs.
When I say, Be my lover, I don’t mean, Let’s have an affair. I don’t mean Sleep with me. I don’t mean, Be my secret.
I want us to go back to that root.
I want you to be the one who loves me.
I want to be the one who loves you.”
― David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary
It all started at a private company party. Under the stupor of alcohol, repressed instincts and greetings of faux sincerity, two individuals found themselves in a dank stairwell, clothes steeped with cigarette smoke and roaming hands as desperate as battling tongues. When they finally made it to a motel room, there was no trading of mindless conversation, no eye contact, no whiling away of seconds as they took to the bed, shirts remained immaculately buttoned and pant legs pooling at their ankles. A few minutes and the deed was done.
Kim Ryeowook vacated the room without a word.
"Again?” came a text message a few days later and Ryeowook found himself downing half a bottle of soju at the back alley of a nearby convenience store before making his way up to the mentioned hotel.
Jung Yunho did not stick around for Ryeowook to finish cleaning up in the bathroom but the sight of the younger man lying beneath him moaning in bliss remained in his head for days.
The encounters became routinized, the function which the relationship was based upon fraying at the edges one night at a hotel in Apgujeong.
“Jung Yunho,” Ryeowook had whispered his name for the first time, fingers clutching at the pristine white bedsheets, cheek pressed against the pillow as Yunho kissed a trail down his spine.
That night was the first time they stayed the night, neither finding any urgency or reason to leave. They fell asleep, backs turned to each other as the air basked in the lazy contentment of the quiet and their rest. Sunlight streamed through the thin veil of the organza curtains the next morning and Yunho took the cue to roll out of bed and tug on his pants, sparing Ryeowook the briefest of glances before slipping out the room.
“So, are you seeing somebody?”
“The other person found out?”
“No. We just didn’t work out. Why do you ask?”
“Are you uncomfortable?”
“No. Of course not,” Ryeowook laid on his side, staring at the peeling wallpaper of the hotel room before clearing his throat, “I just thought we should set some rules.”
“Like how sex should be exclusive?”
“Yes. It’s um, more hygienic.”
The hotel room would have echoed with laughter but the palpable tension from their first conversation was just too much for either of them to bear.
They made up more rules as they went along. No cuddling, no talking of their private lives, no meetings outside the bedroom, no other external parties. It was easier to meet in the evenings after Ryeowook’s radio show. Being in the same company only made everything more convenient as this provided them with knowledge as insiders, the popular haunts to avoid and the management of their schedules.
What they failed to predict was how something like pleasure could only last so long purely as a function. By some warped logic neither would like to admit, their relations had evolved into something like a relationship where sex was affection hiding beneath the guise of physical gratification.
“Do you need a cab?” Yunho asked, phone in his hand as Ryeowook sat on the edge of the hotel bed, doing his laces.
“Yeah,” Ryeowook nodded.
“Take mine so you’ll leave first. I’ll call for another. That way—”
“We won’t be seen together. Got that,” Ryeowook stood up, dusting his hands on his pants before heading for the door.
“Wait,” Yunho called.
He shuffled to Ryeowook, slipping two heat packs in the pockets of his labelmate’s jacket. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out a printed mask before slipping it over Ryeowook’s head.
“Don’t get recognized,” Yunho gave him a half-smile as he adjusted the straps so it would not mess up his hair.
“You know this whole thing will be ruined once we start to care for each other?” Ryeowook mused, relishing the warmth in his coat where Yunho’s hands once were.
“You’ve seen my underwear collection and how gross my hair looks in the morning,” Yunho grinned, “I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
Yet, over the next few weeks, heat packs turned to pain-relief patches (for when Yunho overexerts himself during dance practice), granola bars (for Ryeowook who cannot miss breakfast) and meals.
Conversations started over overpriced room-service suppers, talk that revolved around perfunctory topics like food, work and each other. Being civil was easy and they effortlessly avoided filling the space with unnecessary chatter, considering how much they loathed engaging in gossip and meaningless conversations.
“Here, have my meatballs.”
“I like my meat um, linear.”
Ryeowook started to laugh.
“Have some of my pasta, at least.”
“Pleasure doing business with you,” Yunho grinned.
“We’re not all about sex, are we?” Ryeowook had cautioned.
“I guess not,” Yunho said.
“We’re not friends, either.”
Yunho snorted, “You don’t even use casual speech with me.”
“Then what are we?”
“Lovers,” Ryeowook echoed, the label sounding foreign on his tongue, “Lovers.”