What have you done?
Frank Dunn jabbed his finger against the volume button of his phone, cranking it as loudly as he could. Starboy by The Weeknd blasted into Frank’s head through his noise-cancelling headphones. It was his attempt at drowning out the second guessing he’d been doing for the past month, desperately trying to quell the nerves that surged through him every time he thought of what the next few days would bring. He braced his elbows against his knees, leaned forward and bopped his head to the beat while mouthing the lyrics. He’d listened to the tune so many times over the past year that he was familiar with every pause, every run, every beat.
As he waited for his best friend to show up, Frank’s whole life phased through his head like a soap opera montage, only his had kick-ass music. Getting to where he was in life hadn’t been easy. Somehow he’d made something of himself, despite the naysayers. He wasn’t at the point in his life where he could say all those horrible nights curled into a ball crying was worth it, but he was damn close.
In a day and a half, Frank would be on a private jet heading to his new job in South Korea.
How’d he managed that? Through all the years of classes and part-time jobs, Frank never thought he’d be able to get his degree or his engineering certification. It hadn’t been easy but this was what he’d worked so hard for.
Frank was ready—deep down he knew that.
He’d taken all the extra courses he could. All throughout university, he stole time from socializing and sleeping around to attend Korean language classes. He was far from a native speaker’s ability but if worse came to worse, he would be able to find the right words.
The song ended and started over again. This time he sat up and glanced around to see if he saw Andy. No sign of him. Frank sighed and checked the time on his cell. As usual, Andy was late. Frank had become so accustomed to his friend’s tardiness. Taking a quick gander around once more, Frank rose, looked both ways and jogged across the street to a nearby hot dog stand. He’d been rushing so much that morning he’d forgotten to eat.
After placing his order, he paid the vendor and stood to the side waiting. Andy’s red baseball cap with Icon written on the front came into view. Andy Shim could pass for any Chinese popstar out there. He was handsome, with brown eyes, a sleek body that was well taken care of by hitting the gym four times a week and hair that was always immaculately styled. He carried himself for the job he wanted, not the one he had. And Frank figured that was the one thing that drew him to Andy Shim. Shaking off the thought, he pulled out his cell and called.
“I’m sorry!” Andy said the moment he picked up. “Professor Banks wanted me to stop by his office and I lost track of time.”
“Um…” Frank paused, trying to measure his words carefully. “You do know you’re done, right? Graduated? Finished?”
Andy sighed dramatically. “I know. But how could I say no?”
“I tell you, Shimmie, that man has the hots for you.”
Andy laughed. “You’re seeing things. Besides, isn’t he married—to a woman?”
“I haven’t checked.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m over by the hot dog stand.” Frank waved. “See me?”
Andy hung up and Frank approached the vendor again. “Can you make that two?”
“Sure thing, buddy.”
Frank paid just as Andy reached him and the two hugged.
“It’s been one hell of a morning.” Andy sighed. “I wanted to sleep in but some asshat pulled the fire alarm in the building. So, at six-thirty, I’m standing outside, wondering what I did in a previous life to deserve this.”
Frank smiled. “You’d think they’d get bored of pulling that thing.”
“I know, right?” Andy tossed up his hands.
“Okay, pal,” the vendor said. “Two dogs, ready to go.”
“Thanks.” Frank accepted them and handed one to Andy.
The two stopped to put condiments on their food then began walking the block and a half to their usual barbershop.
“Can you believe it?” Andy asked. “After all the crap we’ve been through. Who would have thought you’d be on your way to White Tiger and I’d be on my way to Japan?”
“Not me. When I was putting together the list of possible jobs, White Tiger was the last company to go on it.”
“What? But that has always been the dream! Ever since I met you, you’ve been going on and on about wanting to work there. We prepared together.”
“Yeah.” Frank bit off a piece of his hot dog and chewed. “Ever since I realized the path I was getting on, White Tiger was the dream, the one. But I thought they would’ve hired me for one of their offices on this side of the world.”
“But this is better. You get to travel, see somewhere new.”
Frank swallowed. “I was scared, I guess—still am. Somehow, I thought if I go through all the others first, at least if White Tiger didn’t call I would have something.”
“Well, I hope you know you’re an idiot for ever doubting yourself,” Andy said, his voice full of conviction. “You got the job without even applying.”
“Yeah. I’m nervous. I’ve never been on a plane, for one.”
“It’s not that bad. When you get on, drink a shot of tequila then go to sleep with music on. The only time you should be awake will be when they stop to refuel. You are stopping, right?”
“I don’t even know.” Frank shoved the rest of his hot dog into his mouth. “I would feel much better if it was a commercial plane with other passengers. I mean, why send a jet for just me? It’s such a waste.”
“They’re trying to sweeten the deal.”
“Better than what they’re already doing?” Frank asked. “The deal was sweet when they offered me the job, and a place to live—I mean these people wanted me to work for them so bad, they bought me a condo!”
“Speaking of which, did they send you pictures of your place?”
Frank nodded. “Right before I left the apartment this morning. Haven’t had a chance to open it yet.”
“Well, we can do it together. I still have to look at my place,” Andy said.
That soothed Frank and he nodded again. After another few minutes of them walking and chatting excitedly about their new endeavors, Frank suddenly went quiet.
“I know that look.”
“What look?” Frank inhaled deeply.
“The one that tells me your world is crashing down around you. What’s up?”
“It just hit me that Wednesday I won’t be jogging to your place to use the gym and I won’t be able to…”
They both stopped as if the realization paralyzed them. From that moment, and after they managed to force themselves to move again, neither man said anything until they walked into the barbershop and fell like bags of potatoes into the seat in the waiting area.
“Frank and Andy!” Clive Owens greeted them with his ever-present smile. It was so wide, Frank always wondered if it would one day swallow the barber’s face. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks!” Both of them chorused, looked at each other then laughed.
“Congratulations?” Basil called from the far side. He’d been reading a newspaper when Frank entered behind Andy. “For what?”
“These two boys are officially mechanical engineers,” Clive announced. “Passed all their certifications and everything!”
The room erupted in applause and cheers.
Frank bowed his head, his cheeks on fire. “Thanks, guys.”
They spent about an hour at the barbershop and after the job was finished, Clive refused payment. According to him, it was his graduation gift to them. They tried, without success, to get him to accept something for his work but Clive stood his ground. Frank settled for a hug and they were off again.
“I don’t know how I’m going to live without you,” Frank finally said when they were on their way back to Andy’s place. The burden of all the changes sat heavily on Frank’s shoulders. By the end of the day, Frank’s apartment would no longer be his. All his furniture had been sold the day before at a garage sale and all he had left was the suitcase Andy had picked up the night before, the bag strapped over Frank’s shoulder and the clothes on his back.
“I’m serious. I have no family to run to,” Frank said. “You’re my brother and you’ll be in Japan. What if I need you? What if life starts being unfair again?”
They stopped and Andy framed Frank’s cheeks with his palms. “I’ll get on a plane. You have to do this. If not, you’ll regret it and then how miserable will you be?”
“Yeah—I feel as if I’m being tossed into the deep end, you know?”
Andy let his hands fall. “And you don’t think I’m scared? I’m terrified but I also remember how much I struggled to get here—the nights without dinner, working extra just so I could afford my books, the late-night binge study sessions after a twelve-hour shift at the shop. We’re two of the lucky ones, Frankie, my boy.”
With a smile, Frank hugged Andy tightly.
* * * *
The airport buzzed around them. From time to time, the P.A. system would come alive with static followed by a shrill voice announcing one thing or another. A few times they were looking for people who hadn’t arrived yet for their flight.
Though he tried keeping his mind active and away from what was about to happen, Frank couldn’t help gripping Andy’s hand. Andy said nothing but Frank knew Andy had been worried.
“I’m okay,” Frank said. He closed his eyes and pressed his head against the wall behind him. “Once I’m working, I’ll be good. I’ll be too busy to be freaked out.”
“I haven’t said anything because I know how nervous you’ve been…”
When Andy said nothing else, Frank waited but had to lift his head and looked at Andy. “Shimmie?”
“Yeah.” Andy’s voice cracked. “You’re going to get on that plane but before you do, we’re going to promise to talk to each other every day on Skype or FaceTime or whatever. And it’ll start out that way—last for about a month and it becomes every other day and soon we meet new friends and work starts piling up so much we’d be lucky if we saw each other once a month. Then it’ll become every Thanksgiving or Christmas—after a while, we’ll both feel ashamed and not knowing what to say to each other anymore…”
“Stop it!” Frank snapped. “Don’t say that.”
“Why not? That’s how it always goes.”
“Not this time.” Frank shook his head. “I have no intention of losing you. You’re my family. When my blood didn’t want me, you stood up and claimed me. When work gets to be too much and I find myself slipping away, I’ll remember—Nǐ de jiārén!”
Andy smiled. “You’re family,” he translated. “Your Mandarin has gotten much better.”
“I’ve had a great teacher.”
“Attention. Mr. Frank Dunn. Please report to Gate fifty-seven-A.”
Frank gasped and looked up as if he expected to see the owner of the voice through the static of the speakers. His heart raced again even as he hugged Andy tightly, burying his head under his friend’s chin, memorizing the smell of his cologne, a soft yet masculine scent that Andy had always worn. Andy’s arms were home—not like a lover’s embrace—no. They were different, for he couldn’t remember feeling so safe with anyone. Then again, Frank never had many friends.
When he finally pulled himself together, he rose, gathered his laptop bag as well as his carryon and walked beside Andy. At gate fifty-seven-A, he went through the checks, the patdown, the questions and someone searching his carryon. When they were finished, he knew how a turkey felt before going into the oven. Still, he was thankful they allowed Andy to walk with him as far as they did. Andy endured the same treatment of being checked but didn’t complain. They stopped before the gate toward the private plane and Frank clung to Andy as if his life depended on it.
“I’m not going to say ‘goodbye’,” Andy whispered. “I’m going to say ‘see you later’ because I will see you in a few hours.”
Frank nodded. “Wǒ ài nǐ.”
“I love you, too,” Andy whispered. “Take care of yourself, okay? Don’t let them work you too hard.”
“I’ll call you the second I get to my apartment—”
“No matter what time.”
Frank smiled. “No matter what time.”
“Mr. Dunn?” someone said from behind him. The voice had a slight Korean accent and Frank knew what that meant. “It’s time.”
Frank stepped away from Andy to see it was a stewardess. He gave her a nod but before picking up his bag again, he hugged Andy once more. “Sorry. I’m trying to get as many of these in as I can. I don’t know when I’ll be able to again.”
“It’ll be sooner than you think.” Andy pressed a kiss to Frank’s cheek. “You’ll see.”
Frank inhaled deeply and released Andy. He picked up his bag and backed away. When he turned to leave, he stared over his shoulder for as long as he could. Andy became smaller and smaller in the distance. The farther he moved, the more Frank genuinely felt like crying. When he was finally forced to look away, his heart did break then and every sadness he ever experienced descended on him at once. Somehow he managed to keep it together and was ushered into the luxurious interior of his first ever private jet.
“Welcome, Mr. Dunn,” the stewardess said with a slight bow. “I am Ga Yoon. Please take a seat and strap in. Hyun-Seonbae has instructed us to extend to you everything you desire while you are with us.”
“There’s no need… I… Wow.”
“Is this your first time flying?”
“Yeah.” Frank chuckled. “What gave it away?”
She laughed softly. “Tequila shot?”
She hurried off and he finally took a seat and pulled on his seatbelt. The jitters were less frightening so he tried going with that. Maybe if he thought of calming things that would further mellow him out. Ga Yoon returned with his tequila shot. After he’d thanked her, she went off again to prepare for the flight. When she finally returned, it was to go through a safety spiel about where the emergency exits where and what to do if the plane crashed or if the plane had to land in water. Frank desperately wanted to tune it all out but as an engineer, the possibilities that would cause them to fall out of the sky were endless. Digging his fingers into the soft leather of his seat, Frank closed his eyes
Frank pressed his forehead against the side of the plane and whispered a soft prayer. From a young age he had been taught he didn’t deserve love or intimacy. He too worried about the dating scene too. Everything else piled on top of his need to be held, to be—
“We are ready,” Ga Yoon said. “I must go and strap in.”
She left him then, her petite body swaying under her stilettos. He wondered fleetingly if they were a mandatory part of her uniform as he looked out the window again.
Korea was a world away. But even though Frank was scared, he knew if he stopped to contemplate all the scary stuff he’d never leave the house. So, he figured he’d just put his best foot forward and no matter how things turned out he would go into this whole thing with an open mind.
With that thought, he tossed back his tequila right as the jet shot off the ground.