From: Your Secret Santa
Title: I Tira Miss You
Summary: Of four Italian restaurant employees, one really odd customer and one very stimulating tiramisu.
Kim Jonghyun stands next to the table with a perfect posture, left arm bent at 90-degrees in front of his body, right arm behind his back. He watches as the customer at the table takes his desert fork in hand and cuts a perfect bite-sized serving of the tiramisu from the plate in front of him before slowly putting it into his mouth. His jaw starts to work a slow momentum as his tongue slowly registered the bittersweet taste of the tiramisu. His face remains stoic and blank as he swallows. He puts down his fork and looks up at Jonghyun.
“Can you please call your pastry chef? I would like to talk to him.”
“Jinki! Lee Jinki! Where are my ingredients? I need my mise-en-place damn it!”
Jinki quickly finishes the pre-preparation for the sous chef and hastily places the ingredients on his counter.
“Jinki! I need two large serving plates here right now!”
“Yes chef!” Jinki hurries to one end of the kitchen, managing to catch a glimpse of Taemin, the dishwasher boy, as he slowly unload freshly sanitized plates from the dishwasher.
“Plates plates plates. Yes yes. Ahhh hot hot hot,” he mutters as he grabs a couple of plates and moves away, leaving Taemin to shake his head at him before loading the next batch of washed dishes.
Jinki puts the plates down in front of the chef and doesn’t even have the time to watch him scoop the pasta onto it as he gets called again to grab some stocks from the cold storage. He rushes past the cold pantry to get to the cold storage, almost knocking into the pastry chef, who was bent over the countertop, working on something.
“Hey, hey! Watch it! You almost destroyed a piece of art in the making!” Kim Kibum yells.
“Oh, so- sorry.”
Kibum glances over his shoulder before saying, “Oh it’s you, my favourite kitchen helper.”
Jinki rummages through the storage looking for cold milk. “Chill out, my dear. Take it easy. Wifey doesn’t like it when hubby stresses himself out.”
Milk in hand, he straightens himself up, throwing a ghastly look at Kibum, whose laughter fills his ears before walking away.
Jinki passes the milk to the chef and takes a breather as he checks the current situation. Prepping was completed and all the plates for the dishes were ready. The dinner rush crowd starts to thin, and the stack of orders slowly disappears, so Jinki starts to help Taemin out with the dirty dishes.
But peace was never the kitchen’s nature as its doors burst open and one of the head waiters, Kim Jonghyun, calls out, “Kibum! Pastry chef Kibum! A customer wants to see you.”
All eyes land on Kibum as he studies the look on the waiter’s face for half a minute before saying nervously, “I- I’m busy right now. Can’t you see I’m trying to perfectly sprinkle some cocoa powder on this coffee mousse?”
Jonghyun sighs and shifts closer to Kibum. “Come on Kibum. You know you have to deal with both happy and unhappy customers. It’s part of your job.”
Kibum ignores him, goes over and grabs Jinki by the arm and shoves him towards Jonghyun. “Send him instead.”
Jonghyun sighs again. He hates to keep his customers waiting, even more so with the unhappy ones. He grabs Jinki’s arm and says, “Come with me.”
“Wait- what? No you can’t-” Jinki tries to protest but shuts up the moment he steps into the dining hall.
The ambiance there is a hundred times calmer than in the kitchen, as always. The sound of cutlery clinking against each other and soft murmurs of conversation fill the air as the customers consume their food in a courteous fashion punctuated with proper etiquette. The waiters walk around briskly, attending to their orders, smiles never leaving their faces.
Jonghyun halts to a stop next to a table set against the right wall. Jinki follows suit, head bowed slightly. The customer is young and good-looking, and to his surprise, unaccompanied.
“This is our pastry chef, sir. Here at Le Mondo Lucente, we aim to serve you the best Italian cuisine in this part of town. If you happen to find anything unsatisfactory-” The customer stares daggers at Jonghyun who shuts his mouth, lips immediately forming a polite smile.
Jinki comes into his line of vision and he gives him a quick once-over. “You’re the pastry chef? What’s your name?”
“Lee- Lee Jinki sir,” Jinki flashes a nervous smile. “How can I help you sir? If there is anything, anything at all that doesn’t-”
Jinki stops short, when the customer suddenly leans forward, grabbing both of his hands and holding them in front of his handsome face. He looks up at Jinki, big eyes twinkling. Jonghyun’s eyes widen, and from behind the small circle of clear glass in the kitchen door, Kibum almost chokes on his own spit.
“Chef Lee Jinki… I’m Choi Minho. And I think you’re my- you’re my hero.”
The kitchen door bursts open once again, announcing Jinki’s and Jonghyun’s entrance, where the latter bursts out in loud guffaws, clutching at his sides.
“Jinki! What happened out there?” Kibum asks. Jinki looks past Kibum, silent.
Jonghyun is wheezing as he tries to catch his breath in an attempt to answer in his place. “He– he said Jinki has godly hands! And that a miracle was bestowed upon him the moment he took a bite of the tiramisu! How he was sent to heaven after that! And– and he also asked him out!”
Jinki blushes slightly as Jonghyun is doubling over, loud laughter filling the kitchen once again.
Kibum studies Jinki for a moment and sighs inwardly.
“Well, it has finally come to this huh, yeobo? I knew we wouldn’t last long,” He says while patting Jinki’s shoulder a few times.
Faking a sob or two, he continues, “It has been fun. It’s time we break up and move on. I’m crying so hard on the inside right now…”
Jinki is too lost in his thoughts to pay any attention to Kibum. His head is spinning with thoughts of I’m Choi Minho, you’re my hero, and my saviour, and the smile, the big shining eyes, the warmth of his hands, and how his wavy locks softly frames his sharp jaw and high cheekbones.
“- Ah my baby! Umma and appa have decided to separate. But don’t worry! Umma will find a replacement appa for you soon.”
Taemin gives out a yelp when Kibum spots him poking his head amongst the big commotion and pulls him in for a dramatic hug. Taemin quickly wriggles himself free and escapes, muttering something under his breath along the lines of reconsidering working with mental house escapees in the near future.
“Oh come on Jinki, suck it up. Why are you still moping around? You said no, didn’t you?”
They’re in their apartment now and Jinki goes to the kitchen to grab a drink, Jonghyun tailing behind him. Yes, Lee Jinki, kitchen helper of Le Mondo Lucente, shares a flat with Kim Jonghyun, head waiter, and Kim Kibum, pastry chef, from the same restaurant. Lee Taemin, the dishwasher, spends the night there on Fridays and Saturdays when he doesn’t have classes the next day, so that he can report straight to work from the apartment.
Jinki doesn’t know if he can consider himself lucky. For starters, splitting the rent amongst four is better than taking it alone. Two, it’s near the restaurant, so they’re able to leave later and come back earlier to and from work. Three, unfortunately, spending almost every other minute with his housemates-cum-colleagues can sometimes be very detrimental to his health.
“I’m not moping! I just-”
“- Gone are the days when I thought no one would even spare a glance at him. My husband has a suitor now! Oh woe!” Taemin tsks from the couch next to Kibum in annoyance and pointedly turns the volume of the television up higher.
“This is all your fault Kibum! You’re the pastry chef. Why did you send me out instead?”
“Look at that, Taemin. Your appa is so mean towards me nowadays…” Kibum says as he nudges the still uninterested Taemin in the ribs. Jinki and Jonghyun roll their eyes simultaneously.
“Okay, okay. In all seriousness,” Kibum says as he gets up and joins the two at the small dining table. “Why does it matter, Jinki? I simply don’t like handling unhappy customers. So you go in my place, and you get to practice for when you become a real chef. And surprise surprise! Turns out he wasn’t unhappy. In fact, he worships you. No harm done, eh?”
“But. I didn’t make that tiramisu. You did. I- I don’t know. I feel all kinds of wrong inside.” Jinki says, burying his face in his hands.
Kibum shrugs. “It’s totally fine by me. I don’t care. It wasn’t anything special anyway.”
Only it was, Jinki thinks miserably, the customer’s look of admiration – the way he had looked at him like he was god - flashing into his mind once again.
“Yeah,” Taemin has shut off the television and stealthily joins them at the table. “Why are you getting so worked up over it?”
“Unless…” Jonghyun drawls, exchanging knowing glances with Kibum and Taemin. “You actually wanted to say yes to him?”
Jinki’s head shoots up. He sees the smirks building up in all three faces and he shakes his head desperately.
“N- No. No, it’s not like that!” Jinki stammers.
“What, was it his charming smile?” says Jonghyun.
“His googly eyes on you?” pipes Taemin.
Jinki shoots him a hurtful look. “I thought you’re on my side Taemin-ah.”
Taemin laughs. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m never on anyone’s side. Now spill the deets.”
Jinki rubs at his face with a groan and huffs. “Fine. I just couldn’t say yes in front of all those eyes, okay? I wanted to, but I just can’t. And yes, the fact that I had said no, is the reason why I’m moping. Satisfied now?”
It was another busy day at the restaurant, another excruciating work shift of running around the kitchen being the chefs’ dog. Or, another day of Kibum’s relentless teasing, and another day of Taemin’s overbearing nonchalance.
Jonghyun bursts into the kitchen then, pulling Jinki to the side for a bit and whispers, “He’s here. Your tiramisu guy.”
The head chef clears his throat and glares at the two of them and they break apart instantly. Jonghyun apologises and goes back to work, and Jinki starts to lose 50 percent of his focus from then on.
“Jinki, Jinki. You screwed up quite a few times today. Unforgivable. Why don’t you forget him and just think of me instead, yeobo?” Kibum remarks as the kitchen crew cleans up their respective workspaces.
“Uh-huh. I’m sure that’d work out better. If that did happen, I would have gotten fired half a year ago.”
They see Jonghyun in the staff locker room a while later and Jinki asks him hopefully, “Did he say anything to you?”
Jonghyun shakes his head no and upon seeing Jinki’s downcast face, puts an arm around his shoulders and shakes him a little. “How about we go for a drink tonight, eh? I’m sure it’ll do you good.”
Jinki half-heartedly shrugs. “Come on, let’s go then.”
The three boys leave the restaurant and start to amble along leisurely, Taemin following closely behind. They reach a corner and are about to turn when all three of them stop in their tracks simultaneously, and Taemin ungraciously bumps into their backs.
Standing before them was none other than Tiramisu Guy.
“Hi. Uhh. Remember me?” Tiramisu Guy – what was his name again? Ah, Choi Minho – starts speaking. “I’m sorry about yesterday. I might have come on a little too strong. I apologise.”
He bows a little. When he straightens back up, he cast nervous glances at Jonghyun, Kibum and Taemin who are on either sides of Jinki, before his eyes lands on him. “I– umm. Do you want to go grab some drinks with me?” Before Jinki can react he quickly adds, “With your friends too. I mean, if you feel more comfortable that way. But it’s okay if you’re tired. I completely understand.”
Jinki blushes furiously, avoiding any eye contact with Minho. There is a moment of silence as everyone waits for his response. Then:
“Ahh look at the time. Sorry Minho-sshi, but we’ve got to get home and rest. Tiring shift it was. Nice to meet you though. See you again sometime,” Jonghyun says in a regrettable tone, pushing his three friends to carry on walking.
Four pairs of eyes turn slowly to look at Jinki.
“Okay, I’ll go.” He smiles shyly. “And my friends can go on home first, since they’re so tired and all.”
Minho’s smile brightens up as Taemin and Kibum continue on grudgingly, being pushed by Jonghyun. Taemin constantly glances back at them and Kibum’s complains of “D’you see that?? That no good hubby of mine didn’t even glance at me!” can be heard quite clearly for a while.
Jinki keeps his head down, eyes shifting anywhere but straight ahead. They’re at some late-night pub and they’re not sitting at the bar, but at a corner table, across from each other. It isn’t packed and the lighting is dimmed, music soft in the background. Jinki swirls his mocktail idly, the soft clinking of the ice-cubes against the glass almost succeeding in relieving the awkward atmosphere. Almost.
He sighs softly. “So Minho-shhi-” he stops abruptly as Minho speaks at the same time. He smiles as Minho mumbles an apology, urging him to continue.
“Minho-sshi. May I know why… you wanted to take me out?” That question should have embarrassed Jinki to no end, but oddly enough, it comes out easily.
Minho’s eyes widen and he ducks his head in an attempt to cover the strong blush creeping its way up his face. “Ahh. I’m really sorry about that. It was kind of a little spur-of-the-moment thing.” He gives a small laugh as he looks up. “Tiramisus do that to me sometimes, when they’re perfect and heavenly and sinful and all... I mean, yeah.”
Minho grins nervously at him and he can’t help but to grin back, though in his mind he is clearly thinking, what a weirdo - but a good-looking one.
“So… May I ask then, what is it with you and tiramisus?” Jinki is really starting to wonder where all this bravado to ask such straightforward questions had come from. He thinks maybe it’s due to the swelling pride he’s getting from Minho’s admiration, which happens to be unjustified, but that was the least of his worries for now.
“Oh. I basically grew up with perfect tiramisus. You see, my mother was a pastry chef. And she made the best tiramisus, like, of all time-“
“- Was?” Jinki interrupts.
“Yes. Sadly, she has passed on…”
Minho shakes his head lightly. “It’s only then that I began to value her tiramisus. I started to miss it, although I’ve been having it my whole life. So I started looking for the perfect tiramisu. Tiramisus should be soft and smooth to the tongue. When you put it in your mouth, it’s supposed to melt slowly in the warmth of it. You will slowly taste the slight tartness of the cheese cream, mingled with the sweetness of sugar and bitterness of the cocoa. The eggy flavour will throw you off a little at first, but it blends surprisingly well with the cheese and sugar. And then when you swallow, the bitter note of caffeine will grab onto the back of your throat, perfectly finishing off this sensory delight.”
Minho is lost in a dreamy state by then, eyes aimed at the ceiling, and Jinki raises his eyebrows slightly at him, the imagery forming in his mind though through Minho’s descriptions were not helping him one bit. Something then snaps Minho back to earth, and he returns his gaze to Jinki.
“They have all been disappointing… until I came across yours.” Minho looks at him with that look again - sparkly, moony eyes – the look that you only give someone who had walked through fire in order to save you and your dog.
Jinki shifts uncomfortably in his seat under that gaze and tries to smile, lips twitching. “Er. Thanks for the compliment, I guess. It wasn’t anything special, really.”
Minho’s eyes never stop twinkling, sending Jinki’s heart into a frenzy and he doesn’t know why his face suddenly feels hot. Jinki decides he’d better do something about not being the creator of such a stimulating Italian dessert.
“Please, my beloved wifey?”
Kibum turns to him and deadpans. “You are so not pulling that card on me, Jinki.”
Jinki deflates visibly. “But. Why won’t you?” Jinki whines.
“When will we ever find the time, for goodness’ sake?”
Jinki gives him a look akin to a kicked puppy. No, more like an abandoned puppy who had just witnessed its only family - its mother – die, and then getting kicked.
“Fine. Tomorrow, after work. I need eggs, whipping cream, mascarpone, coffee powder, savoiardi and cocoa powder.” Kibum quickly retires into his room before poking his head out to add, “Oh and a little brandy too, if you can afford it.”
Jinki lights up. “Thanks Kibum! I’ll love you forever!”
“- Shut up!”
“…For me?” Minho asks, eyes boring into Jinki’s.
“Yeah. Since you’re really passionate about it, yeah,” Jinki says, avoiding his eyes.
Minho carefully holds the small palm-sized plastic container in his hands and peels away the cap.
“I made it… especially for you,” Jinki adds shyly, stealing glances at the boy in front of him. They have been on a few dates now and Jinki’s body still refuses to stop functioning like a hormonal teenage girl in front of Minho. Minho eagerly takes the small plastic dessert fork that Jinki held out to him and takes a bite of the chilled tiramisu.
Jinki watches as Minho’s jaw move just slightly from side to side, lips pursed lightly as he devours the dessert. His eyes shut for a while before he swallows, then he takes another bite. The whole process repeats again, but this time, Minho’s eyes flutter to a close. His facial expression is one of pure bliss; of pure sensory pleasure.
Jinki watches that look of sheer delight on Minho and finds himself wanting to be the one to directly be the cause of it, not through another medium like that blasted dessert. He thinks of all the things he can do to Minho for him to make that face. Jinki’s mouth feels dry suddenly, and when Minho lets out a soft, low guttural hum of contentment, Jinki swallows hard.
He mentally berates himself for having such thoughts because the truth is; he knows he doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve Minho. He doesn’t deserve Minho’s attention and admiration. Kibum does. The longer he hides the truth from Minho, the deeper he’s digging his own grave.
Jinki starts accepting the fact that the inevitable moments of goodbye and separation will come when he tells Minho the truth. He swears he’s not trying to be overdramatic at all, but despite that he starts to feel very miserable.
Jinki starts. For a short moment he forgot where he is.
“Invite me over. Show me how you make this little piece of heaven here.”
Jinki decides that maybe, before the inevitable, he can allow himself one last perfect memory of them together.
He laughs lightly and says, “Sure. Why not? I’ll take sick leave off from the restaurant, and we’ll play chefs in my apartment instead.”
The house is as quiet, still and dead as a graveyard. The people who usually brought life to the place were busy at the restaurant. Jinki has called in sick and stayed home, but his three colleagues-cum-housemates knew better.
Jinki tries to breathe normally as he measures out whipping cream into a large stainless steel mixing bowl. Minho is standing close to him, watching his every move. It makes him self-conscious; his heart is beating irrationally fast and his palms are starting to sweat. And to add on to that, he has only made the dessert a few times - the one time when Kibum had taught him directly, and the few afterwards as he practiced to perfect it. He doesn’t think he’s confident enough yet to be showing the procedure to someone else.
“Why don’t you help me measure out the mascarpone cheese? I’ll go separate the eggs.” Jinki needs to get Minho occupied doing something else other than fixing his eyes on him. It works, as Minho obeys wordlessly, going around the small kitchen area busying himself away.
Jinki starts the electric hand mixer and begins beating the sugar and egg yolk together. The constant whirring of the mixer helps in dissolving the stillness of the air that has settled in between them a little, and Minho resolves to watch Jinki work again. Jinki then adds the cheese, making sure it blends into the yolk mixture evenly.
Jinki shows Minho when to stop beating the egg whites and whipping cream at just the right stiffness. He tries to, at least. He stops the mixer more than once in order to dip his finger in to check the texture of the whipped cream before giving Minho confused looks.
Minho raises his eyebrows at him questioningly.
“Oh I just- don’t know if I’m doing this right.”
Minho is puzzled and it clearly shows on his face. “What do you mean? Don’t play with me. You’re completely in your zone.”
Jinki swipes a dollop of whipped cream onto his first two fingers. He scrutinizes it before saying, “Tell me. Is the texture alright… to you?” Without warning, Jinki leans in and smears the cream across Minho’s face.
Minho’s already big eyes widen impossibly further as Jinki laughs heartily. Minho tries to wipe the cream away but Jinki grabs at his wrist with his clean hand. He tries to smear more of the white substance onto Minho’s face, but fails when Minho clutches his wrist with his other hand, bursting into chuckles as well.
Their cheerful laughs continue to ring in the house as they twist about, struggling to free themselves, at the same time tightening their own grips on the other. After a couple of minutes the endorphins running through their blood seem to finally run out and their laughter slowly starts to subside. Then they stopped laughing completely, still gripping each other’s wrists, still invading each other’s personal spaces.
Their eyes slowly lock, breaths bated. The tension hanging between them is pulled so tight and taut that any course of actions will cause it to snap.
“You know,” Jinki whispers, as Minho is close enough to hear, “I’m not joking. I’m not a pastry chef.” Jinki looks into Minho’s eyes; attempting to read them, anticipating. “I’m just a normal kitchen helper. I only learned how to make this… after I met you.”
Moments pass silently, save for their soft breathing. Jinki finally lets go of Minho and starts to pry his other hand free. He is startled when Minho only further tightens his grip.
“You learned… for my sake?”
Jinki slowly nods. Their gazes hold as Minho brings Jinki’s hand towards him and begins to sensually lick at the whipped cream still hanging on to Jinki’s fingers. Jinki feels some kind of electric current tingling from his fingers all the way throughout his body, and his face starts to heat up. The taut string finally snaps somewhere inside him, backlash whipping at his brain, turning it to mush. His eyelids start to get heavy as he brings his other hand up to wipe at the cream at the corner of Minho’s lips.
“You have… Some cream… There,” Jinki mutters softly. He thumbs the soft, fluffy substance away before holding Minho’s jaw in his palms, leaning upwards ever so slightly towards the taller boy. His eyes flutter to a close as he feels Minho meeting him halfway, lips colliding in a sweet creamy kiss.
Jinki doesn’t have many perfect moments in his life, but whatever the total is, it just went up by one.
Jonghyun, Kibum and Taemin burst through the front door, having finished another dreadful shift at the restaurant.
“What is this mess? The horror!” Kibum is standing facing the kitchen, mouth hanging open so wide you could probably fit five whisks in it. Taemin looks from over his shoulders and shakes his head in mock disappointment.
Jonghyun makes his way to the sitting room wanting to switch off the television that has been left on, and coos instead. “Aww. Will you look at that? Guys, come here.”
Taemin rushes over and contorts his face in distaste at the two figures sleeping on the couch. He goes to his room and comes out with a felt-tip marker in his hands. He sniggers as he starts doodling on Jinki’s sleeping face. Jinki twitches a little, but his head still remains on Minho’s shoulder, arms wrapped tightly around the other’s waist as if his life depended on it. Minho doesn’t stir, head lolled onto Jinki’s, arm wound comfortably and protectively around the other’s shoulders.
Kibum comes over and gasps. “Taemin-ah what are you doing?”
“Nothing. The sight of them just makes me sick, that’s all.” Kibum frowns in disapproval.
“Oh come on. Umma has to take revenge on appa for two-timing with another guy…” Taemin says as he idly holds the marker out in Kibum’s general direction.
Kibum’s lips slowly curve up into a smile as he takes the marker from Taemin, and Jonghyun tries to stifle his laughter behind his hand.