How have you been? It’s been six years already. How’s Belgium? I guess you’re having a great life there, huh. So much that you don’t even write back to me anymore. . . I miss you, Tae.
Every day, I sit here by my window and look out at yours. Remember when we used to talk through our notes? It was so much fun back then. Now, all I stare at is your empty room. I hope you will write back to me. Will wait for you like always.
Jungkook’s heart ached with every word as he penned them down. Tears welled up in his eyes as he looked out at Taehyung’s window. His room had been empty for the last six years. No sign of him could be found anywhere in the neighborhood.
Taehyung’s parents had moved to Daegu, where his grandparents lived, and when he was eighteen, Taehyung was sent abroad to study.
So the eighteen-year-old Taehyung left the sixteen-year-old Jungkook behind in Seoul. Jungkook wrote to him every day, but Taehyung stopped writing back after a year. Still, Jungkook continued writing letters regularly.
After Taehyung had left, Jungkook dropped out of school. He stayed home all day, only leaving in the evening to drop his letter at the post office and check for any reply.
Sadly, there were none for the past five years. Jungkook’s parents and brothers moved away to Busan when he was eighteen, but he refused to leave with them. They did not pressure him to go with them, though. They didn’t bother to even ask twice.
Jungkook was glad he stayed because he didn’t want to miss the chance to meet Taehyung when he returned. He usually stayed home all day, playing his guitar, writing songs, reading his books, and occasionally playing ball in the backyard.
Sealing the letter in an envelope, he went out, locking his doors. He walked down to the post office two blocks from his house with his hands stuffed in his pockets. Dropping the letter in the mailbox, he checked for any letter from Taehyung.
When he returned home, he slumped on his bed and stared out at his neighbor’s window that was once occupied by his first love. He looked back at his ceiling, a tear slipping from his eyes.
There was no reply from Taehyung that day again.
* * *
8 years ago
Jungkook packed his items neatly. He would stay over for two days at Taehyung’s house because his parents had to go to Busan for work and his brother was busy. It was the best idea for him. He cheerfully hummed as he zipped the bag and skipped his way to Taehyung’s house.
After knocking on the door, he was met with Taehyung’s smiling face as he was welcomed in. Jungkook bowed to Taehyung’s parents before Taehyung dragged Jungkook to his room. Shutting shut the door, Taehyung hugged Jungkook.
“Ah, I’ve missed you, Kookie,” he said as he buried his face in Jungkook’s neck. Jungkook blushed as he hugged him back.
Jungkook had a crush on Taehyung for a year now. Taehyung was oblivious to his feelings, so Jungkook felt kinda guilty feeling such emotions. But, as usual, he shrugged it off.
They spent the day playing and chatting. At night, while Taehyung’s parents were fast asleep, the boys were still awake. The moon lit their room as they lay in bed. Jungkook turned to the side to look at Taehyung’s face.
His eyes swept over Taehyung’s fine features—his smooth skin, his perfect nose, his beautiful brown eyes, and his plump lips. Jungkook licked his lips, pushing away those wrong thoughts, averting his gaze.
Numerous emotions ran through his mind. He felt this was the moment he told Taehyung his feelings. He looked back at Taehyung and opened his mouth. “Tae, I—”
“I like someone, Jungkook,” Taehyung interrupted him. He slowly turned his head towards Jungkook, who had a confused expression on his face.
“She’s very pretty, and I asked her out yesterday. I’ll bring her to meet you sometime, okay?” Tae said, flashing his boxy smile. Jungkook held in his emotions and forced a smile, nodding. Taehyung patted his head.
“Well, I’ll go to sleep now then. Good night, Tae,” Jungkook said as he turned around, hiding his teary eyes and heartache.
* * *
Jungkook woke up when he heard the beeping of the alarm. Shutting it off, he groaned into his hands. He had that dream again, of that night with Taehyung. Thinking of it made his chest ache. It often did that these days. He wondered why.
Stumbling downstairs, he made himself cereal, but by the time he finished making it, his hunger had vanished. So after just putting the bowl aside, he went outside to get some fresh air and ran a few laps.
He plugged in his earphones as he ran.
“I see swimming pools and living rooms and airplanes
I see a little house on the hill and children’s names
I see quiet nights poured over ice and Tanqueray
But everything is shattering, and it’s my mistake” *
Jungkook hummed along to the song, feeling he, too, was a fool for falling for someone he shouldn’t have.
Back home, he took a shower to wash the sweat off. Then, he wore a pair of sweat pants and a white shirt before returning to his room, where he grabbed his guitar and began playing to drown his thoughts in the melancholy sound of the notes.
* * *
7 years ago
It was a scorching summer afternoon. The Blue Neighborhood was burning under the sun’s merciless heat. Many families had gone out of town to a relatively cold place to survive the summer.
The young boys of the neighborhood were gathered near the Blue River, enjoying the cool breeze and diving into the water. Fifteen-year-old Jungkook sat by the shore, his legs dipped in the water as his hyungs swam.
“Jungkook! Come on in with us! You’ll get burned up staying there,” Seokjin called.
Jungkook smiled and shook his head. Seokjin shrugged and went back to swim with the others. Jungkook took his notebook and wrote the lyrics of the song he was making. It was his first song, one about love, and he was trying to produce it with Namjoon and Hoseok.
He was intently writing when Taehyung swam up to him. “Your song?” he asked, floating in the water.
Taehyung hummed as he swirled and floated, his eyes closed, basking in the sun rays above and the cool water underneath. Jungkook stared at him, his ethereal first love, mesmerized, his heart skipping a beat.
The thing about first love is that it is a beautiful feeling. You feel butterflies churning in your stomach even at the sight of them. Their voice sends tingles down your spine, and their touch soothes you with warmth.
But another thing is that you feel heartache every time you realize it is impossible that they feel the same. You feel that pang behind the butterflies when you realize you stand alone, while your love has their back to you, blind to your glowing feelings.
Jungkook shut his eyes and took a deep breath. He felt a touch on his face, a wet finger caressing his cheek, sending that same warmth through his body.
“Jungkook,” Taehyung’s husky but honey-layered voice said.
When Jungkook opened his eyes, he caught sight of Taehyung’s brown ones. It felt like they were the only people in the world. How foolish of him to think that. Blame it on his stupid, youthful, immature thoughts—the purest yet most deadly.
Taehyung floated away to the others again, leaving Jungkook by the shore, taking the warmth along with him.
Sighing, Jungkook wrote the lyrics:
“That faint voice of yours that grazed me
Please call my name one more time
I’m standing still under the frozen light, but
I will walk towards you step by step
Still with you.” *
* * *
The sounds around were muffled. His vision was blurred. His lungs were about to burst any moment because of the absence of air. Jungkook couldn’t breathe.
He could hear many voices calling out his name, but he didn’t know which one to listen to or concentrate on. He felt so detached from the outside, so heavy and drowning.
He wanted to drown all his pain, all his heartaches, and just drown away.
He heard a voice, a familiar voice, one he longed to hear. Taehyung’s voice.
That was right. Taehyung. Why was he drowning? Didn’t he wait six years for him to come back? Wasn’t that why he didn’t go to Busan?
At that instant, Jungkook followed the familiar voice and escaped that drowning maze.
* * *
Jungkook woke up with a start. It was the second time he had that dream. He was breathing heavily, trying to catch his breath, and when he moved, he noticed he was drenched in sweat.
Looking at his clock, he saw it read 4 a.m., so he sat up, clutching his forehead, trying to compose himself. He gulped down a bottle of water, got out of bed, and changed into a fresh pair of clothes.
Suddenly, as he was passing his window, he saw a car—a black car—standing outside. Jungkook squinted his eyes, trying to figure out who was in it.
A man walking back to the car seemed to be the driver, but Jungkook learned that wasn’t the case when the driver’s window rolled down and the man began talking to someone. Jungkook’s heartbeat grew faster. Either he was hallucinating, or it was Kim Taehyung beside that car in front of his house.
Jungkook was frozen in his place for a moment, but when he regained control of himself, he ran down the stairs, almost tripping on the way. He ran outside and was about to call his friend, his love, when he stopped in his tracks.
Taehyung stood there hugging another woman. Jungkook felt the pang in his heart resurface. Why? Why again?
His eyes grew teary. Why did he have to go through all the pain? He slumped on the ground holding his chest. He heard the car start and saw it ride away. Jungkook rushed to follow it, running with all his life.
He felt a burning in his throat. He couldn’t hear anything as he ran. As he slowed down, watching the car drive away, he realized the burn was from him screaming Taehyung’s name as he ran. But Taehyung never heard him. . . just like always.
* * *
Seven Years Ago
Jungkook was fifteen years old back then. They were celebrating Taehyung’s seventeenth birthday at his house.
He still liked Taehyung, but he never had the guts to tell him. So he just tried to bury his feelings.
“Kookie,” Taehyung’s soft voice said as he hugged Jungkook from behind.
So much for burying my feelings, Jungkook thought. He slightly pushed Taehyung, trying not to be rude. “Yes, Tae?”
Taehyung just smiled and hugged Jungkook again. Jungkook closed his eyes, annoyed. Taehyung reeked of the alcohol, so Jungkook assumed someone must have made him a drink.
Shaking his head, Jungkook held Taehyung and carried him with difficulty back to his room. The house was filled with people. Taehyung’s parents were out of town, so he threw a party. He never expected someone would sneak in drinks since mostly everyone was underage.
Jungkook put Taehyung in bed and was about to go away when he heard a sniffle. He looked back at Taehyung, who seemed to be crying all of a sudden.
“Hey, what is it?” Jungkook whispered.
Taehyung just cried louder. “I don’t know who I am. Mum and Dad are going to send me away to some English boarding school because they found out I—”
“That I didn’t like girls. I-I had kissed a guy that day at school, but Mum saw me and I—”
Jungkook hugged Taehyung. He was shocked to hear that, but he still couldn’t see his love crying so much. It hurt him.
After Taehyung cried for a long while, he fell asleep. Jungkook caressed his head and cheeks, studying his features before his eyes landed on his lips.
He gulped. Tae is drunk, he reminded himself, almost like a chant. Tae is drunk. But he lost it when Taehyung licked his lips.
Ah, fuck it, he thought as he slowly leaned down and placed a kiss on his lips. He stayed like that for a while until he opened his eyes and saw Taehyung, staring at him, flustered.
Jungkook gasped as he moved away. He ran out of the room and ignored Taehyung calling him from behind.
The day just couldn’t get any worse.
* * *
Jungkook sat in his room, reminiscing about that fateful day. Yeah, he was stupid to do that. He remembered Taehyung leaving Seoul the day after and how he didn’t even go to say goodbye. He remembered how Taehyung wrote to him first after a month, how they continued to do so until they stopped after a year.
He didn’t know why. Jungkook couldn’t remember the last time he got a reply from Taehyung. He couldn’t remember much from five years ago after the letters had stopped coming.
He shrugged. Well, he was rotting here alone for the past years. That was why he must’ve forgotten most of his memories. So much for waiting for his first love.
* * *
Taehyung didn’t come back to the neighborhood again. It made Jungkook ask himself why he was even still here.
He was sitting in his room, as usual, and was reading through Taehyung’s old letters. So many sweet words. So many beautiful words.
Why did you stop writing? He always wanted to ask Taehyung that. He wondered what had happened. Was it because he had found a new girl? Or was it because he felt he was going down the wrong path again by talking to Jungkook?
Jungkook scoffed a bit. He felt hurt, felt that he had wasted all these years waiting.
No, you didn’t waste it, the annoying voice in his head kept telling him, the voice head over heels for Taehyung. It’s worth it. Just wait a bit more.
Jungkook decided he needed some fresh air. He grabbed his hoodie, earphones, and iPod before heading out to walk down the road.
The sun was setting. The Blue Neighborhood was now washed with the purple twilight of the sky. The neighborhood he lived in was always a quiet one. Hardly anyone lived there.
As Jungkook kept walking, he suddenly saw someone exit a flower shop. It was Taehyung. Keeping quiet, he hid behind a poll to avoid being spotted and watched as Taehyung walked with the bouquet of flowers in one hand and a letter in the other.
Where the hell was he going? Jungkook followed him quietly. Even when Taehyung turned into an unknown ally, Jungkook kept following. After a while, he saw Taehyung stop in front of a huge gate. A cemetery.
What’s he doing here? Jungkook thought.
He didn’t follow him in, waiting outside instead. After a long while, he saw Taehyung walk away, and if he wasn’t mistaken, he saw him in tears. Jungkook frowned.
After Taehyung was gone, he went into the cemetery himself, finding the familiar bouquet after a moment of searching. He approached the gravestone, and shock glued him to the ground.
The air around him turned cold. Shivering, he backed away from the gravestone as he read the name on the stone, again and again, unable to believe it. He felt nauseous. Jungkook ran away from the cemetery.
The gravestone had read:
2000 – 2016
* * *
A year after Taehyung left, Jungkook became depressed. He was losing his mind, and he couldn’t understand why. His heart was aching too much, so he deemed himself heartbroken beyond repair.
Taehyung had sent him a letter a day before. It was a picture of him and a girl, and he had written, “This is my girlfriend, Jungkook. Isn’t she pretty?”
Jungkook felt as if all his fantasies had shattered into pieces before his eyes.
He was currently walking, more like dragging his legs, back home after his mom had sent him to buy groceries. He didn’t know where he was walking to. He felt so heavy. Once he reached the neighborhood river, the Blue River, Jungkook didn’t think much. He dropped the grocery bag and jumped into the water.
The cold froze his every nerve. He was shivering, but he didn’t swim. He didn’t fight the current. He felt relieved—to be drowning himself and all his pain away.
* * *
Jungkook ran from the cemetery to his house as he remembered it all: what exactly happened five years ago, why his parents left, why the neighbors left (the music he played made them think the house was haunted), and why he never received another letter.
He couldn’t believe any of it. What was going on? He stopped in front of his house when he noticed Taehyung sitting in front of his door, crying.
Taehyung couldn’t see him. Jungkook crouched in front of him and tried to wipe his tears, but his hand went right through Taehyung’s face.
“I am sorry, Jungkook. I am so, so sorry. I wish I had told you. I wish—I wish I had said to you that I loved you, too. I gave you so much pain. I am so sorry. If only I had told you how I felt, if only. . .”
Taehyung broke off into loud sobs as he cried his heart out. Jungkook was crying, too. He was hurt, hurt that he couldn’t touch Taehyung and hug him and tell him that none of it was his fault.
He didn’t have to be sorry.
* * *
The next day, Jungkook followed Taehyung back to the cemetery, where Taehyung left a letter and a bouquet of Jungkook’s favorite flowers.
“I am going back to Belgium, Jungkook. Jieun Noona is going with me. She’s getting married to your brother. They are all fine. Jieun Noona came with me here the other day. I wish you eternal peace Jungkook, and. . . I love you,” Taehyung said, his voice cracking at the end. He wiped his tears and left, walking straight through Jungkook, who was standing behind him.
So the woman the other day was his brother’s fiance, huh. Sighing, Jungkook sat and took the letters crowding the gravestone.
Yeah, Taehyung never stopped writing. It was Jungkook who stopped.
He picked up a letter. It was from 2018, two years after he had died.
My dear Jungkook,
Do you remember, Jungkook? When we were young, you had asked me if I wanted to marry you. That was my first ever proposal, and it was from you. I was glad it was you.
That day, when we were in the same room during the sleepover, I knew you were about to confess, but I stopped you because I didn’t want to drag you into my mess.
I know your feelings. I had peeked into the last page of your school copy once (I am sorry for that).
Jungkook, I wish—I wish I never went to Belgium. I wish I had told you how much I loved you, too. I am so sorry. Please, forgive me.
Yours forever and always,
Almost all the letters were filled with old memories and thousands of apologies, and each letter ended with an I love you.
Jungkook read all the letters, crying along.
“How much will you apologize huh?” he asked softly. Wiping his tears, he stood and walked back to his house. Taehyung was standing beside his car with the woman, Jieun, from the other day.
Jungkook walked up to them and stood before Taehyung, who had his back to him. He was talking to Jieun, who was already in the car. Jungkook knew they couldn’t see him. He took a deep breath and said, “Taehyung, I love you a lot, and. . . I forgive you.”
Suddenly, Taehyung spun his head around as if he had heard him. But Jungkook disappeared. That was what was holding him here for these years. He hadn’t given Taehyung his forgiveness. He had held on. And finally, he let go.
“You okay, Taehyung?” Jieun asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I am fine. Let’s go.” Taehyung left forever now, leaving behind the memories of the boy he loved and his Blue Neighborhood.
* * *
“Yeah, we’re on our way. We’ve spoken to the dealer, and they’ll prepare to sell the house soon. Yeah, yeah. Alright, Mom. See you.” Hanging up, Taehyung placed his phone in his pocket.
When he was on his way here, he had felt a huge weight in his heart. He didn’t know if it was sadness or guilt, but after his last visit to the cemetery, he felt as if that weight had been lifted off, as if—as if Jungkook had forgiven him.
He looked down at the box filled with Jungkook’s belongings: his diaries, the letters they had shared, his Uno cards they played with, their pictures. . . Tears threatened to fall from Taehyung’s eyes as he looked at the picture. They were smiling in there, smiling pure smiles.
Taehyung held it close to him and looked outside at the familiar neighborhood, which now was scarcely occupied because of the neighbor’s assumption that the Jeon house was haunted. He scoffed at their stupidity.
Placing his head on the window, he slowly drifted to sleep.
* * *
7 years ago
Taehyung sat by the window, watching his fifteen-year-old neighbor he also happened to have feelings for. It wasn’t like he was going to tell him, though, not when he would be sent away for that very reason.
His parents didn’t know about his feelings for Jungkook, and Taehyung wanted to keep it that way since he didn’t want to drag Jungkook into his mess. Jungkook was still a kid, after all.
Taehyung sighed as he remembered their sleepover the day before when Jungkook was about to tell him his feelings. He had managed to avoid it, hurting Jungkook as a result. But he was doing it all for Jungkook’s sake.
He was hurt, too. He never liked seeing Jungkook cry. He wanted Jungkook to move on from him, so he thought making Jungkook hate him would be the best way.
Taehyung knew Jungkook had feelings for him, knew all of it. It was pretty obvious. The way his face turned red whenever Taehyung was near him. The times he would just stare at him thinking Taehyung didn’t notice. And, of course, the last page of Jungkook’s notebook of lyrics filled with Taehyung’s name.
Taehyung smiled at the thought of it. Jungkook really was still a kid.
He sighed and continued writing his essay on his laptop. He plugged in his earphones, played his favorite song, and began typing.
* * *
“Finally!” Taehyung said, stretching. He had gotten the essay over with and reviewed it several times. As he flopped backward on his bed, his head automatically turned towards his window. It was dusk. An orange hue swept the sky.
He looked at Jungkook’s window and saw him. Taehyung waved, and Jungkook waved back. Jungkook bent down to grab something, and Taehyung instantly caught on and found his own notebook, as well.
After watching the music video of “You Belong With Me,” they decided to communicate from window to window through their notebooks, just like in the song.
Your essay? Jungkook wrote.
Taehyung nodded. How’s your song going?
Can you show me now?
Jungkook shook his head vigorously. Taehyung just smiled, writing a fine.
For a moment, they stared at each other. When Taehyung placed his hand on his window, Jungkook did the same, and at that moment, a strange connection flowed between them. Taehyung felt longing. He stared at Jungkook’s face, his calm expression, his smile.
Taehyung smiled back. After a few minutes, he grabbed his notebook, and a rush flooded inside him as he wrote the three words. When he looked up, his shoulders slumped. Jungkook was already gone.
Taehyung threw the notebook aside, the words I like you scratched out.
* * *
A Year Later
“Taehyung! Get your luggage down already!” Taehyung heard his mother shout.
He groaned. He looked at the picture of him and Jungkook one last time before placing it inside his diary and putting it inside his bag.
Taehyung went downstairs, carrying his bag on his shoulders. His parents, Jungkook’s parents, and Jungkook’s brother stood in the front yard. The cab was waiting to take him to the airport. Taehyung’s eyes searched for that one bunny smile in the crowd, but unfortunately, he wasn’t there.
Taehyung’s other friends—Jimin, Namjoon, Yoongi, Hoseok, and Seokjin—were there to wish him goodbye. He hugged each one of them. His parents wished him luck, and Mrs. Jeon gave him some gimbap she had made for him.
Taehyung went to Jungkook’s brother, who hugged him and patted him on the back.
“Oh, he said he had some important work, so he left.”
Taehyung’s heart felt heavy. He looked down and nodded.
“Oh, but he told me to give you something.” Jungkook’s brother took out his phone and sent Taehyung something.
“What’s this?” Taehyung asked.
“His song. He stayed up all night and got it done to give it to you.”
Taehyung smiled and bowed before heading towards the cab. Waving at them all for the last time, he looked up at Jungkook’s window, sighed, and looked away. “Let’s go.”
As they drove away, Taehyung plugged in his headphones to listen to the song.
Every lyric had a sense of longing and love. He looked out the window just as they passed the Blue River, and there he was. Jeon Jungkook, sitting, staring ahead, his side facing Taehyung.
Taehyung watched him pass by as Jungkook kept his gaze straight, a tear slipping from his eyes. Leaning on the window, Taehyung let the music engulf him.
* * *
Taehyung woke up with a jerk.
“We’re here,” Jieun said.
Taehyung looked around, still a bit dazed as he slowly realized they were at the airport. He nodded and got out of the car. He grabbed the box filled with Jungkook’s belongings carefully and followed Jieun.
That was it. That was the final time Taehyung had been in Seoul. As he walked, the cool breeze blew. Something cold touched his hand. Looking up at the sky, Taehyung saw it was snowing.
He took a deep breath. Jungkook’s song suddenly came into his mind. He went on with those lyrics playing in his head.
“And when I see you again,
I’ll look into your eyes and say
I’ve missed you.” *
*Lyrics from Troye Sivan’s “Fools”
*Lyrics translated from Jungkook’s “Still With You”