20 |eighteen|

"Eat your hearts out. I have to go to bed. I have to be up early for my flight." JiHyo sets the last plate down on the table. She ruffles my hair before smiling down at me brightly.

"Thank you for the food." HyunJin and MinHo lower their heads politely.

"Thank you for looking after my Ari." She returns their appreciation with her own.

"They're not looking after me. They just happened to kind of like me." I slap JiHyo's leg as she turns to leave.

"Okay, fine—thanks for putting up with her and her problems. She's quite the handful. I wouldn't blame you if you dropped her off on a corner and let her sit there for an hour before coming back for her." JiHyo teases as she hurries up the stairs.

"She seems nice. How long have you known each other?" MinHo asks as he picks up a piece of meat and stuffs it in his mouth.

"Me and JiHyo—I'd say probably five or six years. We had our hiccups along the way though—mainly because of me." I sigh as I lower my head. There were so many nights I would yell at her over simple misunderstandings. I would overreact to nearly everything, but she'd always come back.

"That's how you know she's a good friend. She always comes back to you." HyunJin chirps as he nudges me playfully.

"Yeah, I honestly don't know what I would've done without her." I mumble as I stare down at the glorious meal she prepared for the three of us.

"You don't think you deserve her—do you?" MinHo questions as he sets his phone on the floor beside him.

"I don't deserve her. I don't deserve being around you guys either. I don't know why you put up with me. Most people would've thrown me out and ran away terrified. When people hear autism—" I jump as HyunJin places his hand over my mouth. He gives me a slight glare before setting his chopsticks down on the table.

"If someone throws you out just because of a simple word, they don't deserve you." HyunJin states firmly as he smiles over at MinHo.

"We don't deserve you. You're way too amazing for us. Especially for JiSung. He's a dork." MinHo chuckles as he glances down at his phone.

"Speaking of JiSung." HyunJin holds his phone out to reveal an incoming call from the one and only.

"I've got this." I smile as I take his phone from him and hit answer.

"Are you coming home yet? It's late. I'm sure she's tired. She needs to sleep." JiSung begins rambling the second I hold the phone to my ear.

"Nope. We're eating. Besides, I'm not tired." I explain as I reach out to grab a piece of watermelon.

"Ari—why do you have HyunJin's phone? Or is this MinHo's phone—I don't remember who I called to be honest." JiSung's voice lowers a bit and he rambles anxiously.

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"Go to sleep, JiSung. They'll get home safely, I promise." I tease as I glance over at HyunJin laying on the ground.

"They aren't being a pain—are they? What have they told you? I'm sure they're talking about me. They always like to embarrass me." JiSung attempts to get everything out of me, but I don't plan on spilling.

The time I've had with these two has actually been a lot of fun. I got to talk about a lot of things I don't usually talk about with them. I didn't feel pressured to be a perfect person in front of them. All these years I've been so worried about how I would look to someone like them—when in reality, they're just like me.

"I'm so sorry, but I have to go. HyunJin is exhausted. We have to go get ready for our slumber party. Let Chan know they won't make it home until tomorrow morning. Thank you, JiSung!" I quickly bring the call to an end and hang up. I place HyunJin's phone on his stomach and turn to see MinHo staring at me in amusement.

"He likes you." MinHo states matter of factly as HyunJin sits up nodding.

"He really does. It's so obvious it's almost sickening." HyunJin agrees then pretends to gag.

"I'm his fan, I can't date him—if that's what you're getting at. It'd be wrong." I mumble as I turn away from them. It's not like I haven't thought about how it would work, but I just can't bring myself to do it.

Honestly, even being this close to him is uncomfortable. He's been my hope for so long and it's always been from a distance. The fact that the distance is closed now is concerning. What if I was completely wrong about him? What if everything I liked about him was just a facade?

"Love is love. Who cares if you started as his fan? Shouldn't every couple be each others fans? I want my future wife to be my biggest fan." HyunJin yawns as he crawls toward the couch.

"He isn't wrong. If you don't feel comfortable being around him like that because he's your bias or whatever—then stop biasing him. He doesn't have to be your bias. You don't have to be his fan. You could always just be friends. Just like us—we don't have to be your idols. We can just be your friends. I honestly prefer just being friends." MinHo smiles softly at me as I lower my head.

I get what he's saying, but it's a lot harder to do than say. I can't just throw out years of liking JiSung and Stray Kids and replace it with a simple word. Friend doesn't even start to explain how much they all really mean to me.

"Okay—I may really have to take advantage of your little slumber party joke. But—really though—don't think about the whole fan and bias thing. JiSung is a human being just like the rest of us. He makes mistakes and he falls in love. It's just the way life is." HyunJin closes his eyes and rests his hands on his stomach.

"We should get going, but if you're free tomorrow and want to meet up, just message me." MinHo reaches his hand out for my phone. I delicately place it in his hand.

"To be honest, I'm always free—unless being alone doesn't count." I sigh as I glance over to we HyunJin already dead asleep.

"You should come to the studio with us tomorrow. The place has been pretty empty recently with everyone having comebacks. Besides, if you're with us no one will think too much of it." MinHo hands me my phone back before slapping HyunJin's thigh.

"When do you guys start?" I ask hesitantly. They made it sound like they started super early, but JiSung was supposed to go in at ten or so.

"I think Felix is first and he's going in for like eight." MinHo explains as he glances back over his shoulder at HyunJin.

"When are you going in? I'd feel awkward just showing up without being with one of you." I claw at my thighs anxiously as I wait for his response.

"If I'm up—which I probably will be—I'll probably just head in with Felix and ChangBin. I'll just chill in the practice room or something." MinHo shrugs as he gets to his feet. He grabs ahold of HyunJin's arm and forces him up.

"Tomorrow at eight it is. Where should I meet you?" I swallow hard as HyunJin attempts to make sense of the few minutes he missed of the conversation.

"I'll meet you here. We can go to the company together. It's kind of in the middle of our places now." MinHo smiles as he drags HyunJin toward the door.

"Thanks again—for everything." I hesitantly get to my feet as MinHo reaches for the doorknob.

"No—thank you. You make JiSung anxious, but good anxious. He's not stuck in his head as much anymore. Goodnight. I'll see you tomorrow." MinHo waves before slipping out of the house.

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