No one knows how star basketball player Choi Minho and Associate Professor Kim Kibum got together but their story will now be told.
Author's Note: this is what happens before "The Ball is Round". gosh it took me more than a year to finally write this. just a little background info. the title of this fic is a basketball term. the paint is the most valuable position on the basketball court because of its proximity to the basket. a player in the paint will have a higher percentage of success. coincidentally, in the paint also means in the “key” area... need i say more? lol. all pun intended of course~ :D alright, enjoy dear readers!
At 19, Minho thought the worst was over when he finished his last paper of the college entrance exam. He was wrong, so wrong. What he did not foresee was that the process of applying to universities was even more stressful.
Reading through the list of supporting documents he has to submit for just one application, Minho can’t help but wonder why no one ever talks about how taxing university applications are. To think he is actually known for his determination. If any one were to find out that Choi Minho is on the verge of giving up at the second stage of the application process, he will certainly be the laughing stock of his friends.
Perhaps he should just take a break and try again once he’s feeling more refreshed. After all, Minho has been at it since he sat down in Starbucks half an hour ago. Looking up from his laptop, Minho decides it’s best to relax for a moment and get some caffeine into his system. As he picks up his Mocha Frappuccino, Minho realises that the café has become busier than when he first entered. There is a long queue at the counter and people looking for seats.
Seeing other customers waiting for seats makes Minho feel a little guilty for occupying a table meant for two. Although he really isn’t obliged to offer the seat to someone else, Minho moves his backpack from the chair opposite him to the floor before bringing his laptop closer to him, making some space to accommodate another person at his table. It seems like his action doesn’t go unnoticed because in the next moment, he sees a man walking towards his direction.
“There’s a seat here if you like?” Minho gestures towards the empty chair opposite him, deciding to offer the seat first before the other person can ask. He even reminds himself to smile so he doesn’t come across as intimidating.
“Oh.” The stranger stops in his footsteps, clearly caught off guard by Minho’s offer, and then goes on to point behind Minho with his free hand, “Actually...”
Minho follows the stranger’s line of sight and finds an empty table behind him. Well, damn it. Needless to say, Minho desperately wants the ground to swallow him up. Shouldn’t good things happen to good people? How did he end up embarrassing himself when he just wanted to be nice?
“Ah, right, well...” Minho lets out a nervous chuckle, unable to meet the stranger’s eyes when he’s feeling all flushed and praying that his face isn’t red, “Just ignore what I said.”
Minho doesn’t see this but the man smiles and looks thoughtfully at him. Silence surrounds them, but only for a brief moment, because before Minho can react, the man pulls out the chair and chooses to share the table with him.
Minho looks at him, surprised, eyes wide in confusion.
The stranger shrugs and smiles, “There are people who need a table for two, so since neither you nor I mind sharing...”
Minho returns a smile, partly grateful that the man has saved him from the embarrassment, “Yeah.”
“And anyway, sorry if this is intrusive but I noticed you’re on Konkuk’s website?”
Thinking he has found someone who can understand his current predicament, Minho nods excitedly, “I’m applying for Konkuk right now... Are you applying too?”
“How young do I look to you?” The stranger lets out a laugh, his eyes and nose crinkled in the cutest way that makes Minho want to see him laugh more.
After taking a sip of his iced Americano, the man answers, “I’m actually way over qualified, young man.”
Minho frowns, not only puzzled by his answer but also disliking the way the man is speaking to him like he’s just a kid.
“Why do you say that?”
“I teach at Konkuk.” The man explains, clearly proud of his job, “I may be biased when I say this but you’re making a good choice... maybe I’ll see you around some day, kid.”
Minho simply responds with a tight-lipped smile, choosing not to say anything else while the man gets busy with his phone. His eyes travel back to his laptop, back to the screen which has been frozen on the second stage of the online application form, and suddenly, Minho finds the motivation to make the man’s words a reality.
Call him crazy or impulsive, because honestly, Minho himself can’t explain what came over him. All he knows is that he doesn’t want his fate with the attractive (yes, attractive) man to end at the café.
Kim Kibum. Age twenty eight. Recently appointed as an Assistant Professor at the College of Art and Design at Konkuk University.
Although he isn’t as experienced as other teaching staff, Kibum (or should we say, Prof Kim) is already famously known as the professor who cannot be told apart from his students. Owing to his youthful appearance, word has it that Prof Kim pranks his first class by sitting among his students before the lecture begins just so he can watch their reactions once he stands up and introduces himself to be the professor. For being so different, his students practically hate him as much as they love him. Kibum’s teaching method is fresh, exciting and engaging, unlike the majority of other professors who are experts in the art of boredom. Yes, it hasn’t even been long since Kibum was tasked to teach three core modules for his first semester as an assistant professor but his classes are so popular that they have been oversubscribed. Students love him for breaking the norms and this is exactly what gives Minho the confidence to follow his heart.
If Minho’s sources are right, Prof Kim’s last class for the day ended 15 minutes ago and he would be arriving back to his office any second now. True enough, Minho soon spots the young professor walking down the corridor with a stack of bulky, large ring files piled up to his chest in his arms.
What a perfect opportunity.
Minho smiles to himself and quickly walks forward to lend a hand, “You look like you could use some help, Prof.”
“Only when I get to my door...” Used to students looking for him outside his office, Kibum replies without thinking, “I’ll need to get my keys out of my pocket.”
“Which pocket?” Minho asks while he takes some files from Kibum, “Here, let me help you.”
It’s only then that their eyes meet and Kibum ends up pleasantly surprise to see a familiar face.
“Oh!” Kibum breaks into a smile once he recognizes Minho, “I see you’ve made it into our university.”
“Yes... And I wanted to thank you for that.”
“Thank me?” Kibum raises an eyebrow, “What for?”
“I’m here because of you... because… I’d love to get to know you.”
What happens next will be kept secret between Minho and Kibum because no one should find out that the well-loved professor had said a string of expletives which would certainly not sit well with the academic board.
On hindsight, Minho should have known better than to come on so strong with Kibum. Obviously, his honest confession did not set his relationship with Kibum off to a good start. In fact, Kibum had avoided him like the plague. As long as Minho took one step forward, Kibum took three steps back, clearly unwilling to have any involvement with the freshman. This only served to egg Minho on. He simply just has to put in more effort to close the gap between them. Besides, if there is anything good about Kibum being a professor, it’s that his door has to be open for students.
“It’s the fourth time I’m seeing you this week, Minho.” Kibum lets out a sigh as he looks up and is greeted by the usual sight of the 19 year old entering his room, “You’re not even in any of my classes!”
“Calm down, Prof…” Minho grins and places a clear container of chocolate chip cookies on Kibum’s desk, “My mum baked these yesterday and I thought I’d share them with you. They taste really good.”
Kibum shakes his head and pushes the container back towards Minho, “Your mum wouldn’t be happy if she knew what you’re trying to do.”
“You’re overthinking it.”
“Am I?” Kibum is clearly cynical about Minho’s intentions.
Minho shrugs, “Well, if you want me to be honest…”
“No.” Kibum cuts Minho off, “Let’s not go there.”
“What are you so afraid of?”
“Okay, listen up, kid-”
“God I hate how you keep trying to emphasise our age difference, does it really matter?”
“Minho, are you being serious right now?” Kibum lets out a breath, “I told you to think about what you’re doing. You’re so young… you’re just confused. We don’t even know each other so how on earth-“
“Now you’re just making me angry.” Trying his best not to lose his cool, Minho interrupts before Kibum can say more stupid things, “I’m going to leave. Just, enjoy the cookies.”
Knowing there is no point in continuing the conversation, Minho accepts the fact that today isn’t the day Kibum decides to give them both a chance. It’s not that he’s giving up. He is just giving Kibum the time and space he needs.
Truth is, Minho isn’t the one who needs to think it through. He knows what he wants, and he’s not afraid to go after it. Kibum, on the other hand, needs to sort things out on his end. Age is just a number and certainly shouldn’t be used as an excuse to reject him. So if the professor (how ironic) needs time to understand that, Minho is more than willing to give him time.
Kibum is convinced Minho has seen the light when he doesn’t see or hear from the freshman in the following week. Not that he is consciously counting the days in between, of course.
It isn’t until he is sitting in the back row of his own class and waiting for all of his students to arrive that Kibum hears about Minho. With 10 minutes to spare before his class officially starts, his students are chatting among themselves, two of whom are engaged in a conversation without realising that their professor is listening in. Clearly, from the way they are talking, these two had definitely missed their introductory class with him.
“So what’s the big deal with Prof Kim?”
“I don’t know either... I didn’t come to class last week but I guess he must be awesome enough for Choi Minho to argue with Prof Park.”
“Yeah, what’s that all about anyway?”
“Haven’t you heard? Prof Park was practically dissing Prof Kim and making remarks about how his teaching style was bad just because a student compared the difference in assessment criteria. My friend who was in his class told me that he was being really sarcastic, the atmosphere was so tense but Minho stood up to him and defended Prof Kim.”
“What did he say?”
“Apparently, he asked Prof Park to reflect on himself and his ineffective teaching methods before he goes around talking bad about others.”
“No way… what happened after that?”
“Before Prof Park could kick Minho out of his class, he left on his own accord.”
“Wow, drama. Prof Kim better be worth all this man.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise to Kibum that Prof Park - in fact some others as well, generally those who have been teaching for over a decade - do not have much respect for him and his teaching style. To be honest, he couldn’t care less about what those old folks think of him. What concerns him more is that Minho may have gotten into serious trouble for going up against his professor because of what Kibum feels is a trivial matter. Was he really worth all that trouble to Minho?
Although a part of him is worried about the freshman, Kibum can’t help but feel happy and even a little smug that Minho had stood up for him like that. If what his students are saying is true, Kibum thinks he should start to consider the ‘what ifs’ in life.
One week later, the associate professor finds himself wandering around the basketball court in search of the freshman who has made a name for himself. Oddly enough, it isn’t the incident with Prof Park that has made Minho well known on campus though. It is his good looks and athletic abilities that have made him somewhat famous in Konkuk University. All he did was attend try-outs for different sports teams and suddenly, everyone was fighting for him overnight, realising his potential as a valuable player if they could have him on their team. For this very reason, Minho had become the talk of the (university) town and this in turn made it very easy for Kibum to keep himself updated with Minho’s whereabouts.
Considering where Kibum is right now, it seems that Minho has his mind made up on joining the basketball team. Rumour has it Shim Changmin, the basketball captain, is the reason why Minho has chosen the sport over the others. Coincidentally, when Kibum finally manages to spot Minho, he also sees Changmin with him. And from the looks of it, they have gotten really close with each other over a short span of time, if their arms around each other, the absence of distance between their bodies and the smiles on their faces say anything.
How affectionate, Kibum finds himself thinking rather bitterly, but before he can even make sense of his feelings, Minho sees him too.
In a split second, Minho shrugs Changmin off and leaves the senior behind as he hurriedly walks up to Kibum, looking rather anxious.
There’s an odd look on Kibum’s face since this is the first time he’s hearing Minho call him by his name. Just as Kibum thinks it actually sounds nice and wonders if he can get used to it, Minho misreads the expression on his face for something negative and quickly corrects himself.
“I mean, Prof Kim… it's not what it looks like.”
“I didn’t say anything.” Kibum remains nonchalant (or so he thinks).
“But your face just now…” Minho looks intently at the professor.
“What about my face?”
“You looked…” Minho pauses for a moment as he searches for the appropriate word to describe Kibum’s expression when he saw him with Changmin, “-betrayed…?”
“Do I?” Kibum questions, brows drawn together in thought.
Minho nods, “A little…”
“Is that so?”
Finding that the conversation isn’t going anywhere, Minho gets impatient and asks what has been on mind the entire time.
“What are you doing here, Prof?”
“That’s a stupid question.” Kibum rolls his eyes, “Why else would I come to the basketball court?”
“To play basketball?” Minho hazards a guess, unable to figure out where this is going.
“I’m starting to regret my decision to date you.”
“You heard me.”
“Are you serious?” The smile that spreads across Minho’s face is so blinding that anyone would have believed he just won a million dollars.
“I’m always serious.”
Minho laughs, clearly on cloud 9, as he takes a step forward to close the distance between them, because all he wants to do is hug Kibum. He forgets where they are but Kibum doesn’t. The professor instinctively moves backwards and stops Minho from coming close.
“I’m sorry, Minho.” Kibum sighs, “We can’t… especially not here.”
Although he’s disappointed, Minho manages a smile. Somehow, he can tell Kibum is a little frustrated too, and this alone is comforting and encouraging to know.
“Don’t be… I understand.”
“Great.” Kibum returns a smile, “There’s one more thing you should note…”
“What is it?”
“Three dates, Minho.” Kibum holds up 3 fingers right in front of Minho’s face, “That’s all I’m giving you. If it doesn’t work out, we’ll go our separate ways alright?”
“Fair enough.” Minho grins, “Three dates is all I need.”
The way Minho is brimming with confidence scares Kibum a little. For goodness' sake, he is nine years older than Minho. In terms of experience in dating or love, Kibum should have the upper hand. There’s nothing he can’t handle… right?
“I’ll see you soon then, Prof.”
The moment Minho winks at him and waves goodbye, Kibum feels a little hot. And this is also when the professor knows he’s doomed.
Well, he’s right about that.
They kissed on the second date.