title: If My Heart Was a House (You’d Be Home)
summary: On a whim, Kyungsoo decides to bring his grumpy, reclusive university roommate home to rural Ontario for Thanksgiving break. Sehun has no family. Love him. (As it turns out, they do.)
notes: thank you SO MUCH to Lisa, Jay, and DM for holding my hand, cheering me on, and being lovely <3 this fic is based in the general area where I grew up, and some things will be sliiiightly inaccurate, but you won’t know unless you, too, live here. AND IF YOU DO, HIT ME UP. Also, Canadian Thanksgiving is in early/mid October, not late November!
social media platforms: find me on twitter, tumblr, and ask.fm!
fanart collaboration partner: Kagihana / Chansooyeol (click here for fanart)
part one ❀ | part two ❀
If My Heart Was a House (You’d Be Home) [1/2]
“You know what, I actually changed my mind. This is a terrible idea. I think I’ll just head back to school and, you know, spend the break by myself. I’ll catch a cab.”
Kyungsoo casts Sehun a sidelong glance as he pulls into his parents’ driveway, crunching along the gravel and parking behind a little grey Toyota. “It’s six hours back to university, Sehun. Seven if you get stuck behind a tractor.”
Sehun tugs on his seatbelt nervously. “Yeah, no, I think six hours in a cab is preferable.”
“My family isn’t that horrible. They’re just a little bit...weird. In an endearing way. I think.”
“I’ve made a terrible mistake. I never should have come to Canada.”
“You are being very dramatic. Come on, they’re probably watching us through the window.”
Sehun wheezes like he’s having an asthma attack. Kyungsoo rolls his eyes and unbuckles his seatbelt, opening his door. Then, abruptly, he says, “Oh, shit.”
“I forgot to tell you something.”
Sehun stares at him with wide eyes. “What? How could you forget to tell me something? We’ve been in this car for six hours.”
“I don’t know. I just forgot.” He closes his door again. “Listen, just. Don’t tell my parents I’m gay. I don’t think they’ll be furious, but I’d rather not tell them until they’re no longer paying for part of my tuition. Okay?”
Sehun stares at him. “What?”
Sehun’s mouth opens, closes, opens again. “I didn’t know you’re gay.”
Now it’s Kyungsoo’s turn to stare. “What? You didn’t?”
“No?” Sehun suddenly looks even more frantic to go back to school.
“Sehun, I’ve gone on two dates with boys this semester. I told you about them.”
Sehun wheezes again. “I thought they were, like, bro-dates? I don’t know.”
Kyungsoo groans. “Oh god, are you in denial of my gayness due to latent homophobia?”
“That’s the latent homophobia talking,” Kyungsoo tells him, sighing.
“I don’t have a problem with it!” Sehun insists. “I just didn’t know!”
Kyungsoo gives him another sidelong glance. “Is it going to be weird now? I thought you knew.”
“No, it’s fine,” Sehun says, sounding like it is not 100% fine. “It’s totally cool. I’m not bothered at all. Not even a little bit.”
Kyungsoo blinks slowly. “Yeah, it sounds like it.”
Sehun huffs. “Seriously, Kyungsoo. It’s cool. Gay marriage is legal in all 50 states now, you know.”
“It’s been legal in Canada for a decade.”
“Yes, right. Yes. I know. The whole continent is cool with it. Gay is the new straight.”
“This is the most bizarre reaction to coming out I’ve ever had.”
Sehun laughs a little hysterically. “I won’t tell your parents,” he says. “I promise. I won’t tell anyone.”
Kyungsoo lets out a slow breath. “Alright. Well. Let’s go meet them, then.”
Sehun swallows audibly. “Right. Okay.”
A minute later, they have their week’s worth of luggage out of the back seat, and Kyungsoo is opening the front door to his childhood home. “Hello?” he calls. “I’m here.”
“Party’s over, people!” yells a voice from somewhere within.
“Ha ha,” Kyungsoo calls back, stepping inside and letting Sehun walk in behind him. “That’s my sister,” he says more quietly.
“Welcome home, Kyungsoo,” says a different voice, and Kyungsoo’s mom appears at the top of the stairs leading to the upper level of the house. Her eyes land on Sehun beside him. “Oh. Uh...who’s this?”
Kyungsoo tries on his best, most gracious smile. “This is my roommate, Sehun. He had no family to go back to for the break, so I thought I could share mine.”
Kyungsoo’s mom blinks, and Sehun quietly says, “Hello.”
“He’s going to be staying...all week?” Kyungsoo’s mom asks.
“Yeah. That’s okay, right? It’s Thanksgiving, after all. I couldn’t just leave him. He’d be alone all week.”
Kyungsoo’s mom is silent for one more confused second, and then she smiles. “Of course. Welcome to the family for the week, Sehun. Come on in.”
Kyungsoo smiles, grabs Sehun’s shoulder to shake it a little. “He’s kind of grumpy,” he says. “Please love him a lot.”
Kyungsoo had thought it might be a good thing, getting a new dorm roommate in his third year of university. For one thing, he never really liked the one he had for the previous two years; he was kind of thoughtlessly loud and messy and they never got along that great. That guy dropped out, though, so Kyungsoo signed up for a new roommate and hoped for a nice, reasonably quiet, studious guy to share his dorm with, because doubles rooms are cheaper and also maybe Kyungsoo would get a new friend out of the deal.
He likes it when these decisions are made for him.
What he got, of course, because Kyungsoo is never that lucky, was an 18-year-old freshman, Korean (because of course they would stick the students with obviously Asian names together), who looked at Kyungsoo like he’d never been more bored and unhappy in his life.
“Uh, hi,” Kyungsoo said. The kid looked like he’d just stepped off a million-hour flight, which made Kyungsoo think he might literally be from Korea. “Sehun, right?” He spoke slowly and clearly, just in case.
Giving away nothing, Sehun nodded, blinking heavily.
“Kyungsoo.” He held out his hand, and Sehun shook it. “I’m in my third year.”
Sehun grunted, and Kyungsoo was starting to think maybe he was just nonvocal entirely.
“I took this bed,” Kyungsoo said, gesturing to where his sheets and blankets were already covering one of the loft beds. “You okay with the other?”
Sehun grunted again, which Kyungsoo took as affirmation. He shuffled into the room, threw a stuffed backpack onto his bed. He looked around, and his eyes fell on Kyungsoo’s shoes lined up just inside the door. “Oh, right,” he said in perfect English. “You guys don’t wear shoes inside here.”
Kyungsoo blinked at him. “Uh. Where are you from?”
“SoCal,” Sehun said, trailing off on a yawn at the end. “That’s—”
“I know what SoCal means,” Kyungsoo said flatly. “What the hell are you doing going to university in Canada? I mean, Queen’s is a good university, but like. Nobody comes here from California.”
Sehun shrugged. “It was the farthest I could get from home with a scholarship without leaving the continent.”
Kyungsoo opened his mouth, paused, then said, “Oh.”
“Yeah. I’m going to bed, I got up at four a.m. this morning. Morning flights are literally the worst.” And with that he kicked off his shoes, climbed onto his bare mattress, and promptly fell asleep. At four in the afternoon.
As it turned out, Sehun was very quiet, and very studious. Like, maybe a genius, because he spent all his time working on assignments and studying for tests and doing all the assigned readings and the suggested readings. Kyungsoo had never met anyone before that actually did the suggested readings. He thought everyone just saw those on the syllabus and read it as don’t bother doing these, I just put them here because I got a PhD and read way too much on this subject and would like you to know it.
Apart from being a huge nerd (but actually, Kyungsoo just assumed Sehun had to work hard to keep his scholarships), all Sehun seemed to do was play Gameboy in his bunk and sleep a lot. Which, no judgement because Kyungsoo spent most of his free time sleeping and reading and occasionally Skyping his friends back home. He wasn’t much of a social butterfly either, didn’t have a lot of close friends overall and didn’t have any in university.
For the first week of class, they didn’t really talk at all. In the second week, Kyungsoo started asking Sehun if he wanted to go grab meals at the cafeteria with him, because it seemed like if he didn’t, Sehun just wouldn’t eat at all. They still didn’t talk that much, but it was a fairly comfortable silence. Kyungsoo was content.
In the third week, Kyungsoo started buying extra snacks so he could offer them to Sehun in the morning, because Sehun didn’t seem to eat breakfast and Kyungsoo was raised to make sure everyone ate breakfast.
In the fourth week, Kyungsoo caught himself pulling Sehun’s blanket over his shoulders and sliding his Nintendo DS out of his limp hands when he fell asleep playing it, and he realized, shit, he was super fond of this kid, with his mopy face and his awkwardly lanky body and his weird laugh. He was actually kind of cute, really hard to get or stay mad at, and Kyungsoo sort of liked taking care of him. Somehow, in the past month, Kyungsoo had started smiling at his grumpy little huffs of frustration, and his puppy-like whines in the morning when he had early classes, and his hoods pulled over his uncombed hair when he neglected to shower for too long. And he liked how Sehun smiled at him when Kyungsoo wordlessly handed him a granola bar on his way out in the morning, and the way he gleefully giggled his way through otome games while telling Kyungsoo they were something other than otome games. (But Kyungsoo knew.)
The point was, Kyungsoo liked Sehun. They weren’t really close or anything—they hadn’t even been living together for two months. But Kyungsoo was fond of the guy, as reserved and reticent as he was. So when fall break rolled around, conveniently right before midterms started in earnest, and Sehun told Kyungsoo he was just going to stay on campus for the break, Kyungsoo picked up Sehun’s backpack and started shoving his clothes into it.
“Uh, what are you doing?” Sehun asked, one leg hanging over the edge of his bed, propped up on his elbows.
“You’re coming home with me.”
“No...I’m not,” Sehun said slowly.
“Yes you are. Do you want to bring this shirt?” Kyungsoo held up a t-shirt from the floor.
“No, it smells weird.” Sehun blinked. “Kyungsoo, I’m not coming home with you!”
“Yes you are. Sehun, I’m not letting you stay here alone all week. You’ll waste away. I’ll come back to a rotting corpse in my room, and I am not emotionally prepared for that eventuality.”
“You have a whole week to become emotionally prepared.”
Kyungsoo didn’t answer, and instead continued packing Sehun’s bags for him.
“I don’t even know your family!” Sehun argued after a few moments.
“This will be a great opportunity for you to get to know them, then.”
“You haven’t even asked them!”
“My parents are like, the dictionary definition of hospitable. They’ll be so happy to have someone new to play hosts to. I guarantee they’ll try to adopt you by the end.” At Sehun’s unimpressed look, he added, “Also, listen. Free, home-cooked food. All week. Probably several Thanksgiving dinners. You can’t turn that down.”
Sehun huffed, sat up, crossed him arms like a child. “I don’t have many good experiences with parents.”
Kyungsoo smiled at him. “Then it’s about time you do. Get your clean underwear, Sehun, you’re coming to Essex County.”
And that’s how they ended up in Kyungsoo’s black Mazda 3 for six hours (plus food and bathroom breaks), flying down the 401 into the depths of southern Ontario. Like, really southern. Literally as southern as you can get.
“We’re actually weirdly proud of it,” Kyungsoo told him about two hours in. “Southernmost point of Canada. You can stand right on the tip and everything. There’s a little point of land that dips into Lake Erie and you can walk all the way to the end. But don’t go into the water, there’s a really dangerous current and you can die.”
“Sounds cheery,” Sehun deadpanned.
“Essex County is...interesting,” Kyungsoo admitted. “It’s just a cluster of really small towns with a lot of fields in between. It’s very, um. Rural. Wheatley has a population of like...2000.”
“Can’t wait to do nothing all week.”
“Sehun, you do nothing every week. At least out here you’ll get some fresh air. And the scenery is gorgeous in the fall.” He paused. “If you don’t mind the smell of...rotting tomatoes and cow manure.”
Sehun groaned. “Anything else you want to tell me before I become part of your family for the week?”
Kyungsoo chewed on his lip. “Do you follow hockey?”
“Do I look like I follow hockey?”
“Okay, well, just. Don’t mention the Detroit Redwings. Geographically, we’re way closer to them in Essex County than we are to Toronto, but everyone hates the States so you’re obligated to love the Maple Leafs. If my dad asks, they’re your favourite team. Redwings fans are not allowed in our house.”
“Oh, god,” Sehun groaned.
“Call my parents Mr. and Mrs. Do, not by their first names. My sister’s name is Meixiang, but just call her Mei.”
“That’s not a Korean name.”
“No, it’s Chinese. She’s Chinese.”
“What?” Sehun looked at him like he was seriously crazy.
“She’s adopted. We’re both adopted.” Kyungsoo blinked at him. “Have I never mentioned that?”
“No,” Sehun said flatly.
“My parents’ names are David and Rachel,” Kyungsoo said with a laugh. “Why would they name their kid Kyungsoo?”
“How was I supposed to know what their names were?”
Kyungsoo just shook his head. “My parents are both Korean-Canadian. Heavy on the Canadian. I was adopted from Korea—Kyungsoo is my birth name. Mei was adopted from China, she kept her birth name as well. My parents wanted us to, you know, hold onto our roots or whatever.” He shrugged, switching lanes to get out from behind a semi.
“My mom named me after my deadbeat dad,” Sehun said, emotionless. “Also because she wanted everyone to call me See-huhn for my entire life.”
Kyungsoo chuckled. “Yeah, at least Kyungsoo is spelled pretty much how it’s pronounced.”
“Yeah, go ahead and rub it in.”
Kyungsoo grinned. “Anyway. While you’re staying with us, always offer to do the dishes. My mom won’t let you do them, but offer every time anyway. Put your plates by the sink and rinse them off if there’s food on them. At Thanksgiving, eat my mom’s stuffing even though it’s not good. My mom will try to feed you a bunch of weird stuff that she made. Try anything you think you can stomach, and give her your honest opinion unless it sucks—then you tell her it’s ‘not bad.’ If you can’t eat something, say no thanks, and I’ll try to save you. Be prepared to tell my dad what dishes you are capable of cooking. Don’t assume that he wants you to say manly things. When he asks you what you want to do after school, if you don’t actually have a plan, say you’re waiting to see what kinds of opportunities present themselves. Also, don’t act surprised when my mom fixes all the cars and my dad does all the house cleaning and cries during sad movies.”
“Um,” Sehun said, looking stunned. “You are stressing me out.”
Kyungsoo reached across the console to pat his bony shoulder comfortingly. “They’ll love you.”
“I don’t know about this.”
“Remember, Sehun. Free food. All week.”
Sehun looked at him very seriously. “You’re right,” he said. “Do it for the free food.”
They got stuck behind a tractor hauling corn almost immediately after getting off the highway, and Sehun started looking unsure again. Kyungsoo grinned. He knew this was a good idea.
Meeting the rest of Kyungsoo’s family goes exactly as he assumes it will.
His sister comes to greet them only when Kyungsoo’s mom yells, “Mei, move your stuff into Kyungsoo’s room! You’re switching for the week!”
“Why are we switching?” Kyungsoo asks, finally walking up the stairs to hug his mother.
“Because you only have a queen mattress, and Mei has bunk beds,” his mom says, squeezing him around the middle. “Unless you’d rather share a bed with Sehun?”
She’s teasing, but Kyungsoo still has a moment of panic where he thinks maybe she knows he’s gay. Then he laughs. “Oh, you’re right. Bunk beds might be more comfortable.”
“Sehun, come on up. How was the drive? Did you get up early?”
“It was oka—” Kyungsoo’s response is cut off when a balled-up sock is thrown at his face. He turns, feigns a lunge at his sister. “Hey loser.”
Mei laughs. “Welcome home, wayward son.”
“Long time no see.” Kyungsoo pulls her into a brief hug. “I like your haircut.”
“I hate your cologne.”
“That’s why I wear it.”
“Who’s this?” Mei steps back, looks Sehun up and down. “Hello, stranger.”
“Sehun, my sister, Mei. Mei, my roommate, Sehun.” Kyungsoo gestures between them vaguely. “Love him, he has no family.”
“Stop saying that,” Sehun mutters.
“Nice to meet you,” Mei chirps. “Enjoy my room for the week. Don’t do anything weird in there.”
“We won’t do anything weird,” Kyungsoo says. “We’ll just eat chips in your bed. And we’ll let all the crumbs fall into the sheets. And you’ll have to live with a chip crumb bed until Mom washes the sheets again.”
Kyungsoo’s mom rolls her eyes.
“Is Dad home?” Kyungsoo asks.
“He fell asleep watching Family Feud. Again. Go wake him up.”
Kyungsoo smiles fondly, leading Sehun towards the living room like a nervous puppy. “Dad,” he says loudly.
His father jerks away on the couch. “Oh, Kyungsoo. Welcome home. When did you get here?”
“Just a second ago.” Kyungsoo leans over to give a third and final hug. “This is Sehun. He’s staying with us for the week.”
“Oh. Right, yes. Mom told me.”
Kyungsoo laughs. “No she didn’t. I didn’t tell her.”
His dad looks embarrassed. “Oh. I knew that.”
“It was a last minute decision. He didn’t have anywhere to go for the break, so I figured he could stay here for a while. He’s my roommate.”
“Nice to meet you, Sehun.” His dad holds out a hand for Sehun to shake.
“Thanks for letting me stay here, uh, Mr. Do,” Sehun says clumsily.
“Our pleasure,” Kyungsoo’s dad says amiably. “What’s your last name, Sehun?”
“Oh,” Sehun says, blinking. Kyungsoo’s dad still has his hand clasped in his own.
“This week, it’s Do.”
Kyungsoo snorts, and Sehun laughs a little. “Okay.”
They bring their bags into Mei’s room a few minutes later, and meet the last members of the family. “Mei, the cats are on your bed!” Kyungsoo yells.
“I know! I like them there!”
“Oh, god,” Kyungsoo mutters. “I hope you’re not allergic.”
“I’m not,” Sehun assures him uncertainly, looking around Mei’s pastel orange room.
“The fluffy white one is Drapes, the skinny brown one is Chesterfield.” Kyungsoo pauses. “It’s a...type of couch. A Canadian couch.”
“Drapes will lie on your face, Ches will pretend to hate you but never leave you alone. Go away, cats. This is my room now.”
“Who are all these guys?” Sehun asks, squinting at the many posters lining Mei’s walls.
“What? Oh, they’re, you know, Korean boybands.”
“I thought Mei was Chinese.”
Kyungsoo quirks an eyebrow. “She knows more Korean than I do at this point.”
“Huh.” Sehun stares at them for a few more seconds. “They’re unnervingly attractive.”
“And they’ll be watching us as we sleep. Come on, let’s get the rest of our things. I’ll take the bottom bunk, it’s more...full of cats.”
“Kyungsoo!” his mom calls from the kitchen. “Bring Sehun and come try the kombucha I made!”
“Mom, that stuff is gross! I’m not going to make him drink it!”
“It’s good for you!”
Mei pipes in with a well-timed, “It’s not fit for human consumption, Mom!”
Kyungsoo looks at Sehun. “Don’t drink it. It’s gross.”
Sehun looks like he wants to go home already. “Okay.”
“Fine!” his mom calls. “But then you have to make your own hot chocolate!”
“Mei, you make it!” Kyungsoo yells immediately.
“Why should I make it?”
“I just drove a zillion miles! I’m road-weary!”
Mei sighs loudly enough for him to hear it, but he hears her stomping down the hallway to the kitchen a second later.
Kyungsoo wilts a little under Sehun’s dead gaze. “My family’s really into hot chocolate.”
“Okay,” Sehun says, like he has already accepted that the entire week ahead will be too weird for him to handle.
“It’s the good kind. Made from scratch. With, um, homemade marshmallows.” Kyungsoo shrugs helplessly. “I’m sorry, they’re a little overwhelming at first, but they’ll grow on you.”
Sehun blinks at him with his flattest look. “Just call me Sehun Do.”
Kyungsoo snorts, relieved. “That’s the spirit.”
Kyungsoo wakes up after a night of watching game shows with his family and smiling at Sehun earnestly reassuring his father that he definitely does not support the Detroit Redwings to an empty bunk above him. Or rather, empty except for a very smug-looking Drapes. "Good morning," he says dumbly.
He hears the bathroom door open in the hallway, and then his mother's voice saying, "Oh, good morning Sehun. Could you take this out to the chickens?"
There's a short pause, and then Sehun groggily says, "Uh...what?"
"This bowl. Could you throw it to the chickens?"
"...Ma'am...I mean, Mrs. Do...no offense, but I really don't know how to do that."
Kyungsoo grins, picks up his glasses from Mei's bedside table, and loudly says, "I'll do it, Sehun. Don't worry about it."
Sehun is still standing in the hallway when he emerges from Mei's room, looking sleepy and uncertain. Kyungsoo ruffles his hair fondly, even though he has to reach way up to do so, and then slips past him into the bathroom. "Help yourself to breakfast," he says before he shuts the door. "There's cereal in the cupboard next to the fridge, peanut butter and bread to the left of the oven..."
"I'll just have whatever you're having," Sehun mumbles.
"Go sit at the table, then. I'll be right out."
Sehun makes a quiet sound of acquiescence, and Kyungsoo hears him shuffling away as he closes the bathroom door.
He's sitting silently at the table when he comes out, staring at the wood grain like he's never seen something so fascinating in his life. Kyungsoo's mom is puttering around in the kitchen, throwing flour into a bowl. "Mom, what are you doing? It's nine in the morning."
"I'm making pie dough," she says, pulling a carton of eggs out of the fridge.
"I repeat: it's nine in the morning."
"We have a busy day ahead of us," his mom tuts. "I bought Cinnamon Toast Crunch for you, by the way."
"Oh, thanks. Sehun, do you like Cinnamon Toast Crunch?" Kyungsoo waits for Sehun to nod, then pulls out the box before grabbing bowls, spoons, and milk. He sets them down on the table, then says, "What are we busy with today?"
"Apple picking," his mom says. "And then apple pie baking."
"Oh, god. Putting us to work already?" Kyungsoo dumps cereal into his bowl, then passes it to Sehun, who looks like he is trying to make himself very small.
"You don't come here to relax."
"Um, yes, we do. We literally do. We come here so that you'll feed us and dote on us."
Kyungsoo's mom glares at him. Kyungsoo glares back.
"We will go apple picking later, and you will like it."
Kyungsoo sighs heavily. "Fine."
"Sehun, you're pretty tall. You'll be a good addition to the team."
Sehun blinks at her with wide eyes, mouth full of cinnamon swirls.
"Now finish up your breakfast and take this bowl to the chickens."
Ten minutes later, Kyungsoo is leading Sehun into the backyard, bowl in hands. "That's my parents' garden," he says, pointing to a miniature field dominating most of their backyard. "That's our trampoline. That's my mom's tree. That's my dad's tree. That's Mei's tree. I used to have a tree but it died a slow, diseased death."
"Oh," Sehun says, trailing along behind him. "That's a big garden."
"My mom's obsessed," Kyungsoo tells him very seriously. "And here are the chickens. Obviously." There's a little coop in the back, with a fenced-in area behind it. He tosses the contents of the bowl over it, and a flock of chickens streams out of the coop to peck at them in a frenzy. "Chickens, meet Sehun." Then, because he can, he says, "He has no family. Love him."
"I have a family!" Sehun says peevishly. "I just...don't want to see them."
"A family you don't want to see doesn't count," Kyungsoo says. "How'd you sleep last night, anyway?"
Sehun shrugs. "Fine. The cat tried to sleep on my face."
Kyungsoo grins ruefully. "Sorry."
"It's okay." Sehun picks at cold, dewy grass with his bare toes. A rooster crows next to them, and Sehun startles. "Oh. I didn't know they actually did that."
"Yeah. They do. All day, actually." Kyungsoo watches his breath fog in the cool morning air and pushes his glasses up his nose. "It didn't wake you up?"
Sehun shakes his head. Then he says, clumsily, "Nice glasses."
Kyungsoo blinks, unsure if Sehun is making fun of him or not. He thought glasses-based teasing was something that stopped in, like, grade school. "Haven't you seen me wear them before?"
Sehun shrugs. "Yeah, I guess. You don't wear them a lot, though."
"Yeah, mostly just when my eyes are tired or dry from wearing contacts. They make me look lame." Kyungsoo takes them off, squints at them, puts them back on again.
Sehun blinks at him. "I like them."
"...Oh. Thanks, I guess."
Sehun shrugs again. Kyungsoo's used to it. Approximately half of Sehun's communication is done via shrugs and nose wrinkling.
Kyungsoo sniffs, his nose starting to run from the cool weather, and says, "It's cold out here. Let's go inside."
As promised, the whole family piles into the family van as soon as everyone's awake and dressed, and they all drive to the local apple orchard. "It's actually kind of a party," Kyungsoo tells Sehun on the way there, buckled into one of the middle seats next to him. In the spirit of fall activities, Kyungsoo put on his one and only flannel shirt today. He kept his glasses on, too, for...reasons.
"How is apple picking a party?" Sehun asks, staring out the window at corn fields, and soybean fields, and the remains of what used to be tomato fields.
"Oh, it's not just apple picking. During the fall they have this whole thing, with like...a petting zoo, and a huge straw mountain, and face painting. I mean it's mostly for kids, but, you know. Not a lot happens in Essex County. People get excited."
"I just think it's funny because for some reason we're paying money to do a job most people get paid for," Mei pipes from the back seat. "Why? Why do we do that?"
"Family bonding," Kyungsoo's mom says.
"Builds character," adds his dad.
Kyungsoo just shrugs. "I really don't know."
Sehun plays with the ends of his hoodie drawstrings and stares out the window in silence.
At the orchard, they get their baskets and are assigned apple varieties—Kyungsoo promptly calls Empires, the indisputable Best Apple. He takes Sehun with him, leaving the rest of his family to argue over Red Delicious and Crispin.
"I didn't even know this many kinds of apples existed," Sehun says, looking around in wonder as they meander along rows of apple trees, trying to avoid families with small children.
"My mom refuses to make pies with just one type of apple in them. We've learned." Kyungsoo picks a relatively quiet spot among the rows, waves to a lady he recognizes from church. "Here, you pick the high ones, I'll pick the low ones."
"I'm not that much taller than you," Sehun huffs.
"Every inch counts. Also, your arms are like a mile long. Use them for good."
Sehun stares at him. "You're a lot more talkative around your family."
Kyungsoo stops, blinks. "Uh...yeah, I guess."
"You don't talk this much at school."
Kyungsoo shrugs, starts picking apples to put in his basket. "I dunno. I'm more talkative when I'm more comfortable. I guess I'm in my element here?"
"I'm never in my element," Sehun says grumpily.
Kyungsoo laughs. "Is this your way of telling me to shut up?"
"No," Sehun says, zero hesitation. "It's nice."
"Oh." Kyungsoo smiles to himself, picks another apple. "Alright then."
They pick in silence for a few minutes after that, with Sehun dutifully stretching up to pick the ones from the higher branches. Kyungsoo sneaks looks at him the whole time, because he looks so lost and confused, as if he still doesn't know how he ended up here, but also so soft and warm, bundled up in his hoodie against the barely-cool wind (southern Americans...), ears pink, autumn sun warming his skin and reflecting off his messy black hair. The autumn breeze carries notes of apple sweetness, the leaves on the trees rustle and flutter, children laugh and parents chat between the rows, and Kyungsoo can't help but smile, crunching into a particularly delicious-looking fruit.
"Don't you have to pay for that?" Sehun asks, and Kyungsoo laughs.
"Don't ask, don't tell," he says. "Here, we'll share this one to lessen the sin."
Sehun stares at the proffered apple for a moment before taking it and chewing a bite off of it. "'S'good," he mumbles.
"I know. Hey, reach this one for me, I'm too short. It's right there, by the dead branch." Kyungsoo points to his desired apple.
Without warning, Sehun walks right up behind him and stretches up his arm to pick the fruit in question, leaning against Kyungsoo for support at the end as he lifts onto the tips of his toes. Kyungsoo freezes, surprised, and then grins. He almost says, "That wasn't an excuse to get you to rub all up against me." But he keeps his mouth shut, because he knows Sehun would get embarrassed and probably never come near him again. And Kyungsoo doesn't want that.
Regardless, Sehun's cheeks are a little pink to match his ears when he steps away again, chewing on his lip, and Kyungsoo figures it's probably just because he's a baby when it comes to the cold, but he thinks it's cute anyway.
Apple pie baking is exactly what Kyungsoo expected it to be: a disaster.
They’ve got five people squeezed into the kitchen at once, with two cats weaving between ten legs, and there are baking ingredients everywhere. Kyungsoo’s mom kneads and rolls and cuts out pieces of dough to line her many, many pans, his dad peels and cores apples with the little mechanism they own for exclusively that purpose, Mei cuts them into slices, Kyungsoo tosses them with flour, sugar, and cinnamon, and Sehun dumps them into the pie tins at the end of the assembly line. There’s apple juice dripping onto the floor, flour particles dancing in the air, people talking over one another, and laughter ringing through the room.
Kyungsoo loves it.
“So, Sehun,” Kyungsoo’s dad pipes up from his station. “What’s your major in school?”
“What?” Sehun seems to jerk out of a daze, and Kyungsoo smiles at him. “Oh, um. Chemical Engineering.”
“Oh. What’s that about?”
“Uh...I don’t really know yet. I’m only in my first semester. I have to take a lot of physics and chemistry classes, though, plus microbio and biochem, and math and economics…”
“Sounds...complex,” says Kyungsoo’s mom, struggling with her dough falling apart as she rolls it.
“What are your plans after school, then?” Kyungsoo’s dad asks, incredibly predictably.
Kyungsoo is fully prepared to give Sehun a significant look, but the younger boy seems very wrapped up in his apple portioning, and steadily says, “There are a lot of research opportunities at the university. I’m going to wait and see where they take me.”
Kyungsoo grins to himself, and his dad makes an approving noise. “Well said.”
“I think it’s time for a snack,” Kyungsoo’s mom says suddenly. “Sehun, you have got to try my jalapeno apricot jam, I just tried it for the first time this year.”
“I’d love to,” Sehun says, before Kyungsoo can even think of saving him from his fate.
“See, Kyungsoo?” his mom says. “He’d love to. You make a good addition to the family, Sehun.”
Kyungsoo peeks at Sehun from the corner of his eye and finds him chewing on his lip and smiling down at his bowl of apple slices, and Kyungsoo almost dies from the cute.
“He’ll regret it yet,” Kyungsoo says with a grin, reaching out to pat Sehun’s cheek with a flour-coated hand, leaving a nice white print on Sehun’s face. Sehun pouts at him childishly, and Kyungsoo laughs and chucks him under the chin.
Mei bumps Kyungsoo pointedly with her hip at that, and Kyungsoo hopes desperately it’s a stop teasing him bump and not a stop flirting in public bump. He really does.
Because he’s not flirting.
Near the end of the pie-baking process, all that’s left to do is rotate pies in and out of the oven, and like good parents, Kyungsoo’s leave it up to him and Sehun to keep an eye on them. “You don’t have anything better to do,” his mom says as she finishes mopping the sticky floor and prepares to head into the garden.
“We do have work to do over the break, you know,” Kyungsoo complains halfheartedly. “Remember, Sehun is a hardworking chemistry-something student?”
“You can do it while you wait for the pies to bake,” his mom says, patting his head. “Sehun, you have flour on your face.”
“Oh,” Sehun says, quickly rubbing the flour off his chin, but forgetting the mark on his cheek.
“Have fun, boys,” his mom sings, and disappears.
“I’m heading out,” Mei calls from the front entrance. “People to see, things to do!”
“Why does Mei get to leave?” Kyungsoo asks loudly. No one answers. The front door swings shut. Kyungsoo has no idea where his dad went.
“Well,” he says, sitting down at the table and gesturing for Sehun to do the same. “Sorry about, uh. Everything.”
Sehun smiles a little, poking at a cinnamon spill. “It’s okay. They’re nice.”
“Yeah. In general.” Kyungsoo drums his fingers on the edge of the table. “They like you.”
“Do you think so?” Sehun asks, brows furrowing earnestly.
Kyungsoo snorts. “Yeah, for sure.”
There’s a sudden, quiet meow, and then a blur of brown fur as Chesterfield settles himself into Sehun’s lap. Kyungsoo stares. Sehun goes tense. “Uh.”
“You have been blessed,” Kyungsoo tells him.
“Oh.” Tentatively, Sehun strokes the cat’s back, and Chesterfield purrs like a lawnmower.
“It’s official. The whole family loves you.”
“Even you?” Sehun asks, and then promptly shuts his mouth. “Oh. That was weird. Sorry.”
Kyungsoo laughs. “Even me,” he says. “Hey, do you actually want to work on school stuff? I can go grab your things, we wouldn’t want to upset Cat God.”
“Oh, no, that’s okay,” Sehun says immediately, looking down at Chesterfield as he smoothes down his fur. “I’m actually ahead in like...all my classes. I’ll just have to start studying around Thursday.”
“Oh, okay. Do you want me to get your DS, then? Or anything?”
“No. I’m alright.” Sehun keeps petting the cat, chin tipped down so Kyungsoo can’t see his face.
“Okay...I guess we’ll just chill here then.” Kyungsoo folds his arms on the table and rests his chin on them, staring out the glass door leading to the backyard and watching his dad’s maple tree sway in the wind, starting to turn red at the edges.
Silence falls between them for a while, apart from Chesterfield’s obnoxiously loud purring, until Sehun suddenly says, “Your family is really different than mine.”
“Oh yeah?” Honestly, Kyungsoo had kind of figured.
“Yeah. They’re all...really close. My family isn’t close.”
“In what way?” Kyungsoo asks. He thinks it’s probably okay to pry, since Sehun brought it up.
Sehun shrugs. “I mean, I don’t have any siblings, and my dad left my mom before I was born. It was just me, my mom, and my grandma at home. Mom was always working, and she didn’t pay much attention to me when she was home anyway. Grandma mostly just slept and stared out the window. We barely even talked.”
“You don’t get along with them?” Kyungsoo asks uncertainly.
Sehun just shakes his head. “Never really did. Even less when...I got older. I couldn’t wait to leave.”
Kyungsoo looks up at him from the table, but all he can really see is Sehun’s fringe hanging in his face and the flour on his cheek. “I was eager to move out, too,” he says. “But my family’s pretty great. Most of the time. I mean, we don’t always get along, but we all, you know, love each other.”
“Yeah. That must be nice.”
Kyungsoo’s chest aches a little. “It is,” he says. “They even have some love to spare.”
Sehun tips his face up a bit then and smiles. Kyungsoo smiles back.
The oven timer goes off, and Chesterfield jumps and bolts off Sehun’s lap. Kyungsoo sits up quickly, clearing his throat and hurrying to take out the first batch of pies. They smell amazing, sweet and cinnamony, and he places them on racks to cool before sliding in unbaked ones. When he turns around, Sehun is standing and brushing cat fur off his lap. “Maybe I will grab my DS after all,” he says, chewing on his lip.
“Okay,” Kyungsoo says. “I’ll find a book or something.”
They sit there at the table for the next two hours, talking occasionally but mostly in silence, and Kyungsoo doesn’t think it’s a bad thing. He doesn’t think it’s a bad thing at all.
Kyungsoo conveniently forgets to tell Sehun that church is a thing until his mom is waking them up on Sunday morning and telling them they have twenty minutes to get ready.
“Oh, shit,” Kyungsoo says. “Do you have any nice clothes?”
“What?” Sehun says from the bunk above him, voice thick and slurred.
“I don’t remember if I packed you any nice clothes.”
“You packed his clothes for him?” Kyungsoo’s mom asks from the doorway.
“There was some force involved. I only packed you ugly t-shirts and sweaters, didn’t I?”
Sehun groans. “I think so?”
“Shit. Mine and Dad’s arms are too short, nothing will fit him.” Kyungsoo rubs his face against his pillow. “Ah, is Chanyeol home already?”
“I think so. Call him up.”
Kyungsoo already has his phone out and is finding Chanyeol’s name in his recent contacts.
“Soo! Hey, what’s up?”
Kyungsoo has to smile at Chanyeol’s early morning enthusiasm, even if it tends to rub him the wrong way in person. “Hey Chanyeol. Can you bring an extra shirt to church today? I brought my roommate and he’s too long for any of my shirts.”
“Sure! I didn’t know you were bringing your roommate home for break.”
“Yeah, it was a last minute decision.” He pauses, adds, “He has no family, please love him.”
“Stop saying that!” Sehun whines.
“I gotta get ready for worship, I’ll meet you in the lobby, okay? With the shirt. Of course.”
“Yeah, thanks Yeol. Don’t bring anything too enormous. He’s not huge.”
“You got it. Can’t wait to see you again man, it’s been ages.”
Kyungsoo grins. “See you in thirty.”
As soon as he’s hung up, Kyungsoo is rolling out of bed, eating breakfast, finding clothes, combing his hair. He and Sehun both showered the previous night, so thankfully they don’t look like complete messes.
“What exactly is going on?” Sehun asks, sleepy and limp as he sits in Mei’s desk chair, watching Kyungsoo pull all his clothes out of his backpack to find a button-down.
“We have church today. Church is a place for nice clothes.” Kyungsoo slides his arms into his sleeves and frowns at the wrinkles all down the front. Oh well.
“Oh. I’ve never been to church.” Sehun looks worried.
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to convert,” Kyungsoo laughs. “We’ll just go, sit, listen, try not to fall asleep, possibly fail, sing some songs, go home. I won’t make you stick around to mingle.”
“Okay,” Sehun says. “Who were you talking to on the phone?”
“Oh, that was my best friend. He goes to school in Toronto. He’s literally the only other Korean boy in this town, and he also happens to be my age. Well, technically a year older, but I’m a grade ahead because I have an early birthday...anyway. We went to school together, plus church.” Kyungsoo flattens his hair in the mirror, ruffles it again, then re-smooths it. He puts on his glasses. “He’s also super tall.”
“Okay,” says Sehun dumbly.
“Put on a light-coloured t-shirt. Chanyeol’s probably going to bring you a sweater.”
“Okay,” Sehun says for the third time.
They leave a few minutes later, all dressed in their Sunday best except for Sehun, who stands out like a sore thumb. As promised, Chanyeol is waiting for him in the lobby, his guitar slung across his back. “Kyungsoo!” he calls, loudly enough that everyone turns to stare.
Kyungsoo rolls his eyes. “Hey, Chanyeol,” he says, allowing his best friend to pull him into a rib-crushing hug. “How’s it going?”
“No time for chitchat, I need to be onstage in like two minutes,” Chanyeol says. “Here’s a shirt. Is that the roommate?”
Kyungsoo turns, waves towards Sehun behind him, who has his shoulders hunched and his hands stuffed in his pockets. “That’s the one. Chanyeol, Sehun. Sehun, Chanyeol.”
“Nice to meet you, Sehun!” Chanyeol holds out his hand for Sehun to shake, but turns it into a bro-hug as soon as Sehun reaches for it. Overly-friendly bastard. “Hope this fits. I think it should. Sweaters are pretty forgiving.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Sehun says, pulling away looking frazzled. He takes the proffered sweater and pulls it over his head, and the static makes his hair stand up.
“Nice,” Chanyeol says, nodding to himself. “Alright, I’ll join you after worship, save me a seat.”
“You got it,” Kyungsoo says, and then Chanyeol hurries away. Kyungsoo turns to Sehun, looks him up and down. The sweater’s a little loose, but it’s soft and cozy-looking and the dark red fabric looks nice against Sehun’s pale skin. “Looking good.”
Sehun ducks his head embarrassedly. “Thanks.”
Kyungsoo grins. “Let’s go find seats. If we’re not in there for worship Chanyeol’s gonna kill me.”
“What’s worship?” Sehun whispers, shoulders hunched self-consciously as they slip into the sanctuary.
“The singing part. Chanyeol plays guitar whenever he’s in town.”
“Oh. That makes way more sense than what I was thinking.”
They find spots in some of the pews farther back in the sanctuary, near some of the other younger folk, whom Kyungsoo waves to just as the pastor walks onstage to do the usual greetings and announcements. Kyungsoo tries to pay attention, he really does, but he keeps getting distracted by the incessant jiggling of Sehun’s knee beside him.
“Hey, relax,” he says softly as they stand up for worship, watching Chanyeol take his spot at the back with his guitar with fondness. “No one’s going to single you out or ask you if you believe in Jesus or whatever.”
“I do,” Sehun says quickly.
“What?” Kyungsoo turns away from the stage to glance at him.
Sehun shrugs. “Just. In case you were wondering. And if it...mattered.”
Kyungsoo laughs quietly. “Good to know,” he says, nudging Sehun with his elbow. Then the song begins, so he stops talking and starts singing instead.
As promised, Chanyeol seeks them out after worship is over and the sermon begins, sliding into the seat next to Kyungsoo and shaking the hands of everyone around him, including Kyungsoo’s. Kyungsoo grins and leans into him briefly before focusing his attention to the front. He sees Sehun glancing at him, so he pats his knee comfortingly and hopes that’ll do the trick.
Sehun quickly turns away, so he figures it did.
Or maybe not, because as soon as Chanyeol leaves his seat again to do the closing song (an acoustic solo that Kyungsoo is guaranteed to enjoy and that will definitely have every middle aged woman saying something about handsome young men), Sehun turns to him and whispers, “Do you have a crush on him?”
Kyungsoo laughs, then feels bad when Sehun looks slightly hurt. “Just because I like boys doesn’t mean I like every boy I’m close with, Sehun,” he says, quietly enough that no one will overhear and start gossipping about him.
Sehun hunches his shoulder self-consciously. “I was just wondering,” he mutters. His eyes flick up to Chanyeol. “He’s good-looking.”
Kyungsoo grins. “Yeah,” he says. “I did think I was going to marry him when we were kids.”
“Not anymore?” Sehun asks.
“No,” Kyungsoo says, chuckling. “Not anymore.”
“Oh,” says Sehun, and then he turns to the front and doesn’t ask anymore questions.
Immediately after the service, as they all file back into the lobby, Kyungsoo’s mom finds them and says, “How do you boys feel about heading into Point Pelee today? It’s monarch season.”
“Yes!” says Chanyeol, grinning. “I was scared we’d missed it.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Kyungsoo says. “I was already telling Sehun about the Point on our way down.”
“The one where you can die?” Sehun asks uncertainly.
Kyungsoo laughs. “That’s the one. It’s part of our national park.”
“During the fall, hundreds of monarch butterflies pass through during migration,” says Chanyeol’s mom, wading through the crowd building in the lobby. “It’s really neat.”
“So we’re going?” Chanyeol asks.
“Of course,” his mom says.
“Did you drive separate or with your parents, Yeol?” Kyungsoo asks.
“Separate. Oh, but I’m meeting Jongin today!”
“Jongin. He’s from Windsor, but I met him at university. Semi-recent immigrant, good but not perfect English, goes to my school church group, about yay high.” He holds his hand around eye level.
“Why would I care how tall he is?” Kyungsoo asks flatly.
“To remind you how very short you are.” Chanyeol pats his head patronizingly.
Kyungsoo smacks it away. “Whatever. Are you guys gonna join us at Point Pelee?”
“Yeah! You guys go ahead, I’m meeting him at 1 and then I’ll bring him over.” Chanyeol grins. “I’ll see you later, then. Nice meeting you, Sehun.”
“Yeah, you too,” Sehun mumbles, standing close to Kyungsoo’s side. “Thanks for the shirt.”
Chanyeol laughs. “My pleasure.” He tips an imaginary cap, then goes to collect his guitar before going home.
“So, what exactly is going on?” Sehun asks quietly.
“Oh, we’re going to Point Pelee National Park for the afternoon. There’s, you know, hiking and nature-y stuff there. Some creepy old houses. An ugly beach. Lots of trees and butterflies. A gross lake. Fun times.” Kyungsoo smiles. “It’s an Essex County treasure.”
“Sounds...great…” Sehun says haltingly.
“For some reason, we love it. You are obligated to love it too.”
They make a quick pit stop at home to change into warmer, more comfortable clothes, and then a fast-food-and-Tim-Hortons run for lunch and coffee, before heading for the lake, packed into the van again because they only have one family park pass.
“Just head straight to the boardwalk,” Mei calls from the back as they pass through the park gates, chewing on now-cold fries.
“Chanyeol will kill me if we go to the boardwalk without him. Go to White Pine,” Kyungsoo says.
“Is that the one we like? I can never remember,” Kyungsoo’s dad says, slowing down as a squirrel dashes across the road in front of them.
“I thought we liked Sleepy Hollow,” says his mom.
“No, that’s from that story. Rip Van Winkle.”
“That’s a different one. Ichabod Crane,” Kyungsoo corrects.
“Headless Horseman?” his mom suggests.
“I think that’s the same one. It doesn’t matter! Just go to White Pine,” Kyungsoo says, rolling his eyes.
“What’s White Pine?” Sehun whispers.
“It’s one of the picnic areas. The best one,” Kyungsoo says loudly.
“That’s probably where the Parks will be,” Kyungsoo’s dad concedes.
Sehun quietly says, “Oh,” and then looks out the window and says, “Oh! It looks like fall.”
Kyungsoo grins, looking out at the trees on either side of the road, starting to turn red and gold at the edges, like someone took spraypaint to them but got bored after a few minutes. The whole forest is threaded through with fiery splashes of colour, and honestly, it’s gorgeous.
“It’s too bad you won’t be here later in the season,” Kyungsoo’s dad says, navigating a sharp bend. “It’s even prettier when it’s all red and yellow.”
“He can just come back another time,” Kyungsoo’s mom says, so simply, so easily, like it’s just to be expected.
Sehun is quiet, but Kyungsoo can see his smile reflected in the window as he looks outside.
At White Pine, they park and get out of the van, and Kyungsoo takes Sehun straight to the beach from there.
“You won’t be impressed,” Kyungsoo tells him as they make their way along the path. “It’s the exact opposite of Cali beaches, probably. The sand is like, gritty rocks that hurt the bottoms of your feet. And it smells like dead fish. And the water is gross. There’s literally nothing good about it.”
They push free of the trees and come out on a dull, rocky beach, where tiny green-brown waves lap at the sand. Sehun stares at it. “Oh, I thought you were exaggerating.”
Kyungsoo laughs. “I wasn’t.”
There’s a beat of silence. “Can you swim in it, at least?”
“In the summer. For two months, when it’s warm enough. And if there’s not toxic algae blooms.”
They stare out at the water for a while.
“So what do you do here?” Sehun asks.
“Skip stones? There are lots of good skipping stones here.”
They spend the next five minutes in silence, scouring the shore for wide, flat stones. Then they start throwing them, and as usual, Kyungsoo’s first attempts end in disappointing splashes.
“Nice,” Kyungsoo says sarcastically after the fourth depressing sploop.
Sehun laughs, skipping his stone and watching it execute six flawless jumps.
“My dad taught me how to skip stones,” Kyungsoo says. “His focus was on perfect stones, not perfect form.”
“Funny. My dad taught me about skipping, too.”
Kyungsoo glances at Sehun sidelong. “Does parent talk bother you?” he asks, keeping his voice light.
Sehun shrugs, swinging another stone. “Not really. Kinda realizing what I missed out on this week, though.”
“In a bad way?” Kyungsoo doesn’t want to be at fault for forcing Sehun to have a shitty break.
“I don’t know. Not really. Just kinda coming to the realization that those parents in the movies really do exist. And I just wasn’t lucky enough to get them.” Sehun frowns, pulls his hood over his head, like a turtle trying to withdraw into its shell.
Kyungsoo watches him for a moment, then skips his last stone. It manages two erratic jumps. “My dad struggled with depression after being laid off at his old job when I was twelve. My mom had to get two jobs to make ends meet for a while. My parents argued every night for months. They went to marital counselling and mental health counselling. Me and Mei lived with the Parks for two weeks while they got their shit figured out.”
Sehun looks up at him, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“Every family has problems,” Kyungsoo says with a shrug. “We try to keep the fighting to a minimum during Thanksgiving.”
Sehun lets out a short breath. “I guess.”
“I’m not trying to say my family’s just as bad as yours, or whatever. But they sure as hell aren’t perfect.”
“Yeah.” Sehun chews on his lip. “I’m out of stones.”
Kyungsoo’s lips quirk up. “Me too. Let’s find more.”
He switches topics after that, tells Sehun about all the ships that have sunk in Lake Erie while they skip their second bounty of stones and Kyungsoo gets progressively better at it. “The lake’s too shallow and uneven,” he says, watching his stone jump five times. “The whole thing is a ship graveyard. Some people say it has the highest concentration of wrecks on earth. Some ships that disappeared were never found.”
“That’s creepy. Your lake is creepy. People drowning, ships disappearing...toxic water…”
“Yeah, it’s definitely the shittiest Great Lake. But at least it’s warmer than the other ones.”
“But you can’t swim in it anyways,” Sehun says.
“True.” Kyungsoo smiles.
Sehun smiles back.
part one ❀ | part two ❀