Chanyeol was thirteen the first time he’d heard the words on his skin spoken aloud but it hadn’t been real and it hadn’t quite counted. He was at summer camp and one of his cabin mates had read them as he’d pulled himself up onto a dock. They were written across his hip, usually hidden away under clothing but his swim suit had slipped down far enough to show them.
“You aren’t a poet are you?” he had said and Chanyeol had turned to stare. Stupidly, he’d repeated the words back to him.
“You asshole, you don’t read someone’s words aloud,” Kai had said. They said it in the same kind of voice they might have used if the boy with the blue eyes had run naked through a wedding or dropped a baby out a window. There were things that weren’t done and Chanyeol understood why. His stomach had turned sideways and the world had dropped out around him. Just like in the stories but it hadn’t been real.
“Are you sure you aren’t my soulmate, Kai?” Chanyeol had said because it was easier to make it a joke. It was one of those camps where everyone had a nickname. Chanyeol had been there since school had ended. He was there every summer as soon as school ended and he was used to being yeol now. The nickname felt more natural than Chanyeol did. Sehun was a newbie. He’d arrived that morning and though someone had told him the boy’s name, Chanyeol hadn’t spoken to him yet. The old guard didn’t talk to the freshies until they’d made it to their first campfire on the third day. There were rules.
Sehun lay sprawled out on the dock, his skinny pale chest rising and falling and his eyes shut. His hair was starting to dry into a tangle of curls. He was already sun burning across his nose and shoulders. He was one of the short term kids who showed up for two weeks and then vanished again. Chanyeol usually stuck with the old guard, the ones who were there every week from June until September. He had diplomat parents who couldn’t haul a 13 year old all over the world with them so he spent winters at boarding schools and summers at camp. When his parents were in town they pulled him out of whichever one he was at and they spent as much time as possible playing hooky before he went back to being a long distance child.
Sehun ignored him and just kept cultivating his sunburn. Later though, he cornered Chanyeol in the dining hall. He was a little taller and already handsome. One of those boys that little old ladies would pat on the head and call ‘future heartbreaker’ or something like that. Black curls, blue eyes, pale under the sunburn. He had a smile that made people pay attention.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I don’t mind,” Chanyeol had tried to shrug it off.
“Mine are the same. I hadn’t ever thought I’d find someone who has the same words. I didn’t mean to be weird about it,” he said and he undid his watch to show him the words on his wrist. They were exactly the same. No punctuation, words never had punctuation, just words. You aren’t a poet are you. Chanyeol stared at them. Reached out and touched them and then let himself smile.
They had spent the next week and a half together. The soulmate jokes followed them everywhere but it didn’t really matter. They leaned together over meals. They abandoned Chanyeol’s old guard friends to run through the trails or steal kayaks while everyone else was off making pottery. It was a little like having a soulmate might have been. Someone he just fit with.
Sehun memorized poetry because he had been fascinated by his words since he was old enough to read them for himself. Chanyeol had never really considered the words as part of a conversation, just as a way to announce her when he finally met her. Sehun thought of the ways that they would fit into conversations what he would say that would make them say that and what he would say back if he ever heard the words.
“So you’re going to quote love poetry at every girl you meet until one of them responds by mocking you?” Chanyeol asked.
“Essentially. Maybe not love poetry maybe ‘Pulvis et umbra sumus’ or ‘this is how the world ends not with a bang but a whimper’ just because I’d like to find someone more interesting than a girl who like simpering love poems,” he said.
Then, two days before the end of camp, two days before everyone went back to school, Xiumin showed up in a car with diplomatic plates and pulled Chanyeol out of breakfast. Caught up in the whirlwind of packing up his bunk and his mother’s stories about Beijing and his father’s jokes, he didn’t even get to say goodbye. And because they hadn’t made it to the ridiculous un-naming ceremony at the last camp fire, he had never learned what Sehun’s real name was.
For years, he wondered if maybe he’d been wrong and maybe it wasn’t less real because Sehun had read the words rather than said them. Hadn’t he said them back? They’d done exactly as they were supposed to and then gone on assuming it wasn’t real. Each time Chanyeol, and he still used that name long after camp, found himself with a crush on a boy, he thought of blue eyes and black hair and poets. Maybe his story would be one of those tragic ones. One of those sad stories of having missed the connection when they were too young to recognize it.