Pairings: XiuMin/Lu Han side!Suho/Chen
Word count: 32,000+
Warnings: Potentially triggering mentions of behavior dealing with mental illness (OCD and depression)
Summary: At 25, Minseok places his dreams aside. Until he meets Lu Han, a soft spoken writer, who introduces him to a new world made of bossa nova melodies.
a/n: gift fic the sncj-secret santa exchange
His mornings are soundless, just like most of his life. The alarm clock rings at exactly 7AM just like it has done every day for the past three years. A body stirs almost mechanically in a bed, covered with pristine white sheets. Each muscle reacts on its own accord, as an arm extends over to the cheap birch wood bedside table, hindering the acquainted beeping. It’s time for another uneventful day at the office, another chapter of Minseok’s safe (but extremely dull) life.
This was a safety bubble he had built for himself: a perfectly decorated apartment that lacks the comfort of a home and a job as an accountant that is far cry from his dream of being a world-renowned architect. Somewhere along his college years, Minseok began to move away from dreams deciding it was safer to cling to reality. This led him to change his major in order to find comfort in the form of a guaranteed position at his father’s firm. All that remained of his dream were the sketches of constructions he had built in his mind. He sticks them to a corkboard in his living room to remind himself he had aspirations once, but like many others, they perished in fear of an unsuccessful life.
Minseok sticks to routine like an actor to a script. By 7:15AM he’s in the shower, scrubbing away until his skin turns red under the hot water. He hates uncleanliness, disorganization, and the feeling of total loss of control. After he judges himself to be uncontaminated and respectable, he throws on his work suit, choosing from one of the many ties in his closet. Today’s Tuesday, therefore, he settles for navy blue.
He slides his feet into his shoes just before walking out the door, checking the lock at least three times before turning away. Unsatisfied, he turns back one more time and shoves the key into the slot, turning it twice before jiggling the doorknob. This is a ritual of sorts, something he does every morning before leaving for the office. Otherwise, he’d spend his entire day with nightmarish visions of a burglar breaking into his flat. Not like Minseok actually owns anything worth stealing, but the mere thought of a stranger stepping into his private space is enough to make him shiver in disgust.
The bus comes by at 8:05AM. It’s five minutes late, and Minseok makes sure to give the driver a dirty look before shuffling over to an empty seat. Oddly enough, he likes commuting. It’s not completely unpleasant once he shoves his earphones into his ears and listens to a playlist he had put together ages ago. It’s a nice mix of jazz and other soothing acoustic music, nothing too noisy or too emotionally charged. It’s all a quiet soundtrack made to watch his unobtrusive neighborhood fade into the nervous tumult of the downtown area. Busy streets filled with men and women in office attire walking long strides towards their destinations. Worthless bodies marching towards their desks, where they would become part of a machine. Nameless faces who lose their identity once they scan their ID card and become numbers in a system. The twenty-year-old Minseok would have vomited at the thought of a life like this. However, the now twenty five year old Minseok welcomes it.
Numbers go by his eyes so fast yet his brain manages to register all the information he needs. He spends his day lost in spreadsheets and equations. Each decimal counts.
He works meticulously and quickly earns his father’s respect. The man barely even goes in the office anymore. He had promoted one of his colleagues as CEO about six months ago, deciding it was time for him to go enjoy his retirement somewhere warm and relaxing. Still, he calls the office at least once a week, always ending the conversation with the usual phrase.
“One day all of this will be yours, son. Work hard and you’ll earn it.”
Minseok wants to print that out and stick it to his desk as a reminder that none of this is in vain. At home, he had built a sanctuary for his disintegrated dreams. In the office, he would have one based on reality. He craves the CEO chair more than anything. He wants the steadiness of that position and the comfort it would bring. While his co-workers rave about girlfriends and other common social affairs, all Minseok has to contribute is his desire for success in the work life. Of course, this means he’s not exactly popular within his workspace.
Lunch time rolls around sluggishly and he watches as his fellow co-workers begin to gather into groups, heading towards the elevator with thankful smiles on their faces. It doesn’t take long for Minseok to feel that familiar pat on his shoulder. There’s someone who enjoys his company.
“So, what is it going to be today? Italian or Chinese? I’m thinking Chinese.”
Minseok turns his chair around to face the only person in that office who gives him attention. Kim Jongdae is a few years younger and it shows on his bright smiles and the youthful gleam in his eyes. He wouldn’t call him a friend; the two of them seldom meet outside the office, only sharing casual meals from time to time. It’s nice to have someone to exchange mindless conversation with. Minseok likes silence, but sometimes it was too much. There was still a present need to fill the blank canvas with colors. Jongdae’s jokes and random anecdotes taint the white with warm hues and tints of friendship, a concept that had become hidden in the back of Minseok’s mind, categorized as not a priority.
“Whatever you say,” Minseok replies, turning off his monitor and gathering his belongings before following Jongdae towards the exit, “it’s your turn to pay.”
“Shit,” the other exclaims, face twisting in fake, dramatic agony. “Chinese it is.”
Minseok chuckled halfheartedly as they enter the elevator filled to capacity. The melodic beeps and mechanical voice that announced each floor are the only sounds that fill the space, until they reach the fifth floor and a man nudges Jongdae, tapping him in the back. The two of them exchange a glance of recognition.
“You’re coming tomorrow, right?” The stranger asks Jongdae, there’s hopeful look all over his eyes. “Your office’s Christmas party?”
Minseok turns his face to the side, mind boggled that it was already mid-December. The year had whooshed past him like a bullet. Time is indeed flying.
“I don’t know, Joonmyun.” Jongdae's left foot crashes into Minseok’s. He turns his head around to face him with confusion written all over his face. “I think Minseok wants me to help him with some stuff after work, right?” At that, Minseok nods with bogus enthusiasm.
The man takes the hint, shrugging slightly as the voice above them announces the exit floor. “Well,” he starts, following them out the elevator and through the hall, “if you change your mind give me call. Maybe we could get a drink afterwards?”
“I’ll let you know.” Jongdae flashes him his best smile, before tugging Minseok towards the large revolving doors, leaving the man behind as quickly as they could.
When they reach a safe distance, Jongdae sighs, the noise almost inaudible against the city’s angry symphony. Two blocks into their walk, Minseok decides to ask a couple of questions.
“You wanna explain to me what that was or–,” he trails off, watching as Jongdae’s expression changes from a peaceful grin to an uncomfortable scowl. “You don’t have to tell me. I’m just curious.”
“It’s okay,” he says, eyes down at their slow steps. “Sorry for using you like that, first of all. It’s just– that guy. Joonmyun. We went out once, right? Remember stomach flu guy?”
Minseok’s eyes go wide. “He’s stomach flu guy?”
“Yeah. So, after throwing up all over me you’d think the guy would disappear, right? But not him. He’s so desperate for a second chance. I almost feel sorry for him.”
“I don’t really know much about these things,” Minseok says, digging his hands into his jacket’s pockets. It was getting absurdly chilly. “But why not give him a second chance?”
Jongdae halts all of the sudden and Minseok realizes they are across the street from the restaurant. His co-worker stares at the red pedestrian signal light thoughtfully, cocking his head to the side. A small crowd gathers around them, waiting for the light to turn green.
The cars begin to come to a stop and a smirk of realization covers Jongdae’s lips. The light turns green.
“You’re right. Wanna go the Christmas party with me?”
This is a mistake.
Piles of dress shirts decorate his bed with many colors, tints that ranged from pale blue to shades of purple and pink. He doesn’t know what is considered appropriate attire for an office Christmas party. He had never attended one before. For three years, all the social events managed to slide by him completely unnoticed, but not this year, because Kim Jongdae decides to use him as bait.
The clock on the wall marks 8PM. He has exactly thirty minutes to decide if he wants to go through with it, or bail out on his friend in this time of need. The plan is very simple. Jongdae says he doesn’t want to be left alone with stomach flu guy at the party. Therefore, Minseok’s simple job is to keep him company for a couple of hours. If Jongdae gives him the signal (two taps on the back and wink) he’ll be allowed to leave the two of them alone. Seems uncomplicated enough.
However, these things didn’t exactly happen in Minseok’s meek and prosaic world. There’s work from nine to five, a few hours of quality reading time at his apartment, or when he’s feeling adventurous, the coffee shop a few blocks down from this complex. His weekends are usually filled with endless hours reorganizing his things. Last Saturday, he had spent an entire morning categorizing his jeans by wash and frequency of use. He tells himself that this makes his life easier, but he knows it’s all one big lie to comfort himself. Minseok does live an empty life, and deep down he knows it.
Well, maybe it’s time to fill in the blanks with a little something.
He doesn’t know what that something is exactly, and the prospect of stepping into the unfamiliar scared him beyond belief. Still, he finds himself picking out a beige shirt from the pile on top of his mattress and holding it out in front of his torso, looking at his reflection in the mirror inside his closet door. Seems like a safe choice, he thinks, before sliding it over his arms and closing the buttons. There’s something different about the Minseok staring back at him in the mirror.
There’s life behind his eyes.
“I told him I was bringing a friend, right? He seemed cool with it. But then again. He’s not in a position to argue. He did ruin my Armani suit with bile.”
A shy chuckle slides from Minseok’s throat and Jongdae gives him a judging look. The cab driver asks them for a new set of directions and Jongdae responds promptly. The gathering is going to be held at a fancy club downtown, an area foreign to Minseok, but completely familiar to his co-worker, who guides the middle-aged man through the narrow streets with ease.
“It’s only a few blocks down from here,” Jongdae announces, settling his body back against the backseat. “The place is calle Ipanema.”
The driver nods and returns his gaze to the busy street. It’s crowed with people of all ages. Young rebels chain smoking in front of bars, polluting the night sky with the toxic smoke, older gentlemen escorting beautiful women in designer cocktail dresses into restaurants, and of course th twenty-somethings till in their work suits with money to spare on expensive watered down drinks in fancy nightclubs. This is the crowd Minseok supposedly belongs to, but he feels no connection with the lifestyle. It all appeared so meaningless. The endless search for a stranger to warm a lonely bed, the awkwardness of the following morning, and the questioning looks that rea is this something worth investing time and effort on? Or just an alcohol filled delusion?
He had experimented in college, like everyone did. Drinking, girlfriends boyfriends, and a few hollow encounters with strangers in between. After a while, none of it interested him anymore and eventually it all faded away.
“You’ll love this place. It just opened a few months ago. It was a hassle to make reservations but Chanyeol was able to pull it off last minute.” Jongdae motions to the cab driver, pointing out to the neon sign to their left. “We are here.”
They split the fare correspondingly and step out of the vehicle. Jongdae’s eyes sparkle with excitement as they cross the feverish street. Eyes pass by Minseok in curiosity because it’s evident that he doesn’t belong there.
The line in front o Ipanema nakes around the block, it doesn’t seem to be a nightclub of any sorts. From the outside, it looked more like a high-end bar. The crowd was definitely older, sporting dark suits and glittery dresses, and the music that blared from the inside was soothing, a soft melody that tickled Minseok’s ear as they waited for their turn at the end of the line. Sounds of the strings of an acoustic guitar being delicately plucked, and a sweet voice quietly drenching words in a language he doesn't understand, slowly become clearer with each step they take. Once he’s able to peek inside the venue, the environment immediately sends him into a trance. The decoration is all set in soft colors, most of the in shades of blues and greens, which mirrored the hues found in the ocean. Black and white pictures cover one of the walls, showing images of a foreign land where the peace of nature and the angry urban landscaped contrasted beautifully. They step inside after a few minutes, and an attendant guides them to a private table by the stage where all their co-workers talk loudly over the music.
All it takes is one look towards the figure elevated on the stage and illuminated by the lights for Minseok’s mouth to run dry.
The man sits with slim legs elegantly crossed, a worn acoustic guitar on his lap as words drip of his lips into the microphone, being broadcasted into the uninterested crowd. He drops his head, letting sandy blonde bangs cover his eyes as he strums the instrument in the same gracefulness one would touch a lover. It isn’t until he feels the heat of Jongdae’s body beside him that Minseok realizes he’s staring.
“Are you going to stand there or we’re going to drink som caipirinhas?” The man asks, ushering Minseok towards the bar.
He still couldn’t help but turn his head around to give the singer one last look. The tongue in which he sings doesn’t sound like anything Minseok would recognize, but each syllable is simply breathtaking, his voice is gentle like the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. Minseok could almost smell the salty breeze when he sees a gentle smile form on his lips as he sings.
Jongdae pushes a drink into Minseok’s hand and finally takes notice in the direction of his gaze. He nudges his co-worker with his elbow, almost making Minseok spill his drink in shock.
“What–,” he begins, but is interrupted by the faint applauses that erupt around them once the song comes to a conclusion.
“Thank you very much,” the singer’s lovely voice echoed through the tiny space. “My name is Lu Han. The next song is one of my favorite compositions ever done. Pardon me, I’m not in any way a native Portuguese speaker so this might sound a little funny.” He gives the microphone a shy breathy laugh before turning his gaze towards the knobs on the end of the arm of his guitar, tuning them accordingly. “This is calle Águas de Março.”
Minseok sighs loudly. When the song begins, the ambient if filled by sweet melody and the poetic sound of the singer’s voice. He hears Jongdae laugh quite loudly beside him, and even though it pains him to do so, he unglues his eyes from Lu Han and turns around to meet Jongdae.
“He’s cute,” Jongdae offers, before taking another sip of his drink. “Looks a bit young for you, though.”
Minseok rolls his eyes, smelling the contents of his drink before venturing himself into taking a sip. It’s sweet, just like the voice that danced inside his mind and intoxicated him more than any alcoholic beverage at that moment.
“Shut up,” he tells Jongdae, dropping his gaze to his well-polished shoes. “Shouldn’t you be looking for your date?”
“Well Mr. Puke s not here yet. And I'm having way too much fun torturing you.” He raises his hand, running his fingers through Minseok’s perfectly brushed hair and messing it up a bit. “Plus, I’ve never seen you show interest towards anyone before.”
Minseok pushes him away with an annoyed look. “I’m not showing interest. I’m appreciating the music.”
Jongdae scoffed mockingly. “Oh, of course. Please enlighten me in your sudden interest in Brazilian music.”
“It’s nice. I like it,” he replies, before raising the glass to touch his lips once again.
Lu Han pulls in his attention again, when his low snicker resounded around the area. He had stumbled over the lyrics, charmingly laughing at himself with his face away from the crowd. There are crinkles around his eyes and the smile makes his face even brighter under the stage lights.
“Sorry,” he says, bowing his head before resuming in a string of shy Portuguese words which still rang with the sound of his laughter.
“Adorable,” Jongdae croons, before pinching Minseok on the cheek. The other scrambled away from his co-worker’s grasp, straightening his shirt and running a napkin over the patch of skin he had touched.
“Stop touching me,” he huffs and takes another swig of his drink, underestimating its strength. “What’s in this thing?”
Jongdae raises an eyebrow, as he examines the contents of his glass. “Lime? Sugar? And some very powerful Brazilian booze. Want another?”
Another set of shy applauses spew from the tables in front of them. Lu Han bows in return, hugging his guitar. For a quick second, his gaze crashes against Minseok and a shiver runs down his spine. He whips his body over towards the bar, calling the attention of one of the bartenders.
In one of the corners of the bar, Jongdae and his date share a private conversation over a drink, bodies too close for comfort as shy touches are exchanged in between drunken and awkward giggles. Minseok watches from the bar as Jongdae’s finger trace Joonmyun’s collar, the other licks his lips before leaning in to Jongdae’s ear. The moment becomes too private and Minseok decides to face the figure on stage again.
Another song comes to an end, and Lu Han sets his guitar aside, running his fingers through loose sheets of paper resting on the wooden floor. “I don’t usually do this,” he confesses as his eyes scan the handwritten notes. “I’m actually a writer. Not a very good one to be honest. But I try.” The admission drags in a couple of laughs.
Minseok rests his back against the bar, eyes lost in the curves of Lu Han’s lips. The blond man smiles, and bites down on his bottom lip in a way that was almost seductive.
“I’m going to read you all something from my book of poems,” he announces, shifting in his seat, “it’s something I wrote awhile back when I was in New York. It’s calle Silence.”
The individual conversations in the tables slowly die down and when Lu Han notices that all the eyes in the room where on him for the first time that night, a blush creeps up his neck.
He clears his throat, the piece of paper trembling in his hand. His eyes dare the audience, scanning the room with curiosity. A deep breath fills his lungs before he stands up, adjusting the microphone stand to his height.
The poem speaks of a city, large enough to conceal many secrets. Lovers hide in the shadows, stealing kisses under the neon lights, hiding from the ignorance of others. It speaks of vanity and teenage love. Broken dreams and shattered hearts. It speaks of silence, understanding it, and deciphering the monologue behind it.
He finishes with a bow, and the reaction is sudden, like an explosion.
The crowd rises to their feet, clapping with fervor, and exclaiming cries of approval. Lu Han’s glowing eyes go wide as he absorbs the energy the crowd sends him at once, crashing over him like a tsunami, to the point where he’s forced to collapse back into his chair.
Minseok joins his hands together, uniting with the others in their loud hoots and calls of Lu Han’s name. The words had crawled over his skin and into his being like a virus, setting his brain on fire. He longs to explode each aspect of Lu Han’s brilliant mind.
Maybe it was the alcohol, but Minseok starts to feel a little courageous. He sees Lu Han stepping out of the stage, bowing low and often towards the still roaring audience, and plops his empty glass down at the bar before dashing in his direction. He’s unsure of what to say or even what do to in front of Lu Han’s presence, but there’s a force pulling him towards the poet. Before he could stop himself, he’s already standing in front of the very attractive figure that’s eyeing him up and down with interest.
“Hi?” Lu Han says, blinking a few times before lifting a beer bottle over to his lips.
“I just wanted to say.” Minseok scratches the back of his ear with his index finger. Words fail him, and he falters. Offering Lu Han an awkward smile and chocked giggle instead.
“Did you like the show?” Lu Han tries. Minseok nods with as much enthusiasm as he could conjure in response. “Well, thank you.”
“No. No. Than you,” he spurts out, followed by a tense laugh. Lu Han’s smile grows even bigger when he senses Minseok’s embarrassment. “I mean, that was great. The music. The thing you wrote. It’s amazing.”
Lu Han continues to examine him as he picks up an ugly mustard toned hoodie from the side of the stage, sliding his arms through the holes. He adjusts the collar and takes a sit on the steps leading up to the stage, and his eyes never leave Minseok. “Do you want a drink?”
No, he thinks, as he’s already far too tipsy. “Yes. Sure,” he replies instead, and Lu Han beams at him before calling the attention of one of the waitresses.
“So,” he says as the signals for the woman behind the bar to bring them two beers, “how much do you actually know about Brazilian music? And please don’t sa Girl From Ipanema.”
Minseok tenses up again. “Not a lot, to be honest. But I loved everything you played. You’re good. I mean, yeah. I really liked your voice.” Words are not his forte at that moment, and Minseok decides that maybe drinking more would be a wise choice to help him loosen his tongue.
“You’re too kind,” Lu Han answers, resting his cheek on his palm. “Sorry. I never got your name?”
Minseok wipes instinctively his clammy palms on his jeans before sticking his hand in front of Lu Han’s face. “Erm. Sorry. I’m Kim Minseok.”
“Nice to meet you,” Lu Han says, shaking his hand with a firm grip. “Come on, I see an empty table towards the back.”
Lu Han’s hand trails up Minseok’s arm, finding a resting place on his shoulder, leading him towards the back of the bar.
Sometimes you have to break the silence.
Three beer bottles later Minseok finds himself spilling his entire life story in Lu Han’s attentive ear. The other shares a few things too and Minseok learns that Lu Han recently published a book of poems, and his obsession with Brazilian music comes from a very young age. His father had traveled to Rio de Janeiro back in the 60’s and came back charmed by the city and it’s many wonders. Lu Han grew up listening to various Brazilian artists, his eyes simply light up as he talks about the poetry behind th Bossa Nova elodies.
Minseok also learns about Lu Han is his love for traveling. The man has been pretty much everywhere around the world. Lu Han was born in Beijing, but moved to Korea before his freshmen year of high school along with his parents, both of them very wealthy business owners. Minseok is a bit taken back when Lu Han tells him his age Twenty-five, he had said proudly, even flashing his ID in Minseok’s face to prove it.
“Does that disappoint you?” Lu Han teases. “Were you looking for someone younger?”
Minseok’s face twists in agony. “Stop it. It’s just. You don’t look twenty-five.”
“You don’t look it either with those cheeks.” His knuckles brush against Minseok’s left cheek. Petrified by Lu Han’s sudden display of affection, he lets out a gurgled noise before screwing his eyes shut. The world spins around him as the weight of his drinking starts to crush his ability to make smart decisions.
“Your hand is really soft,” Minseok says through his closed eyes.
When he manages open them, he finds Lu Han staring at him with a hint of danger across his eyes. He sucks in a deep breath, fingering the neck of his beer bottle. “I actually have to go but,” he props his elbows against the table, leaning so close Minseok could smell his cologne and every fiber of his being begs for more, “I wanna see you again.”
Minseok’s gaze is stuck to Lu Han’s lips, it falls down to his jaw line, and the collarbones peeking from his V-neck white shirt. Oh god, he thinks, I can’t do this.
“Saturday. 8PM. Here.” Lu Han’s words ring of challenge. Something Minseok would usually step down from.
But not tonight.
“Sure,” Minseok whispers back, heart drumming aimlessly inside his ribcage. Lu Han’s smiles even wider and traces his damp index finger, from his beer bottle’s condensation, across Minseok’s knuckles.
“Bye,” he says, leaning even closer and Minseok feels his entire body tremble with the proximity.
Lu Han leaves his seat gracefully, making his way over to the side of the stage to collect his belongings. Minseok watches him until the last possible moment.
When he disappears through the bar’s glass doors, Minseok sinks into his chair, letting out a long breath as he tries to clear his head. Lu Han is everything Minseok runs away from in a daily basis. He’s a mountain with countless exhilarating ways to the top. All Minseok sees are narrow curves, slippery turns, and he can picture himself already falling off the edge of that cliff.
But even tumbling down into the unknown darkness entices him.
Minseok’s life stops and restarts.
From the moment he meets Lu Han, his carefully calculated routine now includes many variables. The equation grows more complicated, to the point where Minseok gives up trying to solve it. There’s no exact answer to Lu Han’s mysteries. The writer is a quick flash in Minseok’s twenty-five years of existence, but the rupture he causes is too significant for him to ignore.
He spends the rest of his week thinking about Lu Han. Casually remembering details about their brief encounter a Ipanem during random times of the day. While typing up report for his boss, the crinkles around Lu Han’s eyes come to his mind, making his fingers linger over his keyboard for a few seconds, a dumbfounded smile plastered across his face.
Stupid, he thinks, index finger hitting the backspace button furiously to erase the many typos he had made I’m so stupid.
Th Lu Han ripple, as he likes to call it, expands even further.
Jongdae eyes him curiously from across the table, munching on Minseok’s uneaten egg roll. The Chinese restaurant is buzzing with hushed conversations, but their table is surprisingly quiet. Jongdae usually likes to fill the silences with as many silly jokes as he could conjure, but now, he simply watches as Minseok stares at the restaurant’s red and gold decorations. There’s a large picture of Beijing almost covering one of the walls completely. Lu Han’s hometown. Minseok finds himself biting his lip to hide a smirk.
“Wow.” Jongdae sets his egg roll down, still chewing lazily as he bobs his head, looking at Minseok with disbelief.
Minseok blinks a few times. Lu Han’s face melts away from his vision and the restaurant rematerializes around him. “What?”
Jongdae shakes his head. “You’re different.”
Instinctively, he raises his fingers to touch his face. Had his sudden infatuation with the Chinese poet changed his facial features? Maybe his cheeks had gotten even fatter. “I don’t know what you mean,” Minseok questions, patting his face and neck, looking for any abnormal differences. It’s all the same.
“You met someone?” Jongdae guesses.
“Yes,” he replies almost instantly, like the event had been stuck to the back of his throat, lodged away, just waiting for someone to pull it out and make it real.
“Was it the singer at the bar?” Jongdae once again predicts correctly. Minseok nods in response, and his friend’s jaw drops. “Nice.”
“I’m seeing him again tomorrow.” Minseok can barely even hold his excitement anymore. The week had dragged by as slowly as ever. Usually, he doesn’t mind. His weekends are customarily lonely and dull, and going to work had become his sole motivator for getting out of bed in the morning.
Now, it’s like his insides are jolting with electricity, fingertips sparkling with the prospect of coming near Lu Han’s skin. Inside his mind, he plans as many different conversation starters and icebreakers as possible. The night before, he had stayed up until three in the morning, learning as much as he could about Bossa Nova. He built a playlist with his favorite songs and his morning commutes are now filled with poetic melodies sung in Portuguese. One particular lyric had caught his eye. Vinicius de Moraes’ A Felicidade.
Sadness never ends. Happiness does.
“What about Caetano Veloso? Did you like anything from him?”
“Hold on. I’m still discovering the Bossa Nova from the 60’s.”
“Then must have heard Elis Regina. She’s my favorite.”
“Oh, how did that song go?”
Minseok hums a tune and a flicker of recognition immediately runs through Lu Han’s brown eyes.
“Os sonhos mais lindos sonhei...” Lu Han sings softly, closing his eyes. His voice is like rainfall, drenching Minseok’s senses, and each note sticks to his skin and lingers across his pores. Granted Minseok knows nothing about the words dancing from Lu Han’s lips at that moment, but he still found them beautiful.
“That one,” Minseok points out, soaking his mouth with more alcohol. “I liked that one.”
Lu Han drums his fingers on the wooden table. “Interesting.”
He slides over the booth, and the heat emanating from his body is now all Minseok can think about. Their legs brush together under the table and he couldn’t help but think that this is all a game. Lu Han isn’t all charming smiles and pretty words for no reason. He’s a hunter.
“Why is that?” Minseok asks to distract himself from the proximity of Lu Han’s hand to his thigh.
“Well,” Lu Han begins, lifting his index finger to his lips in concentration, “the lyrics are about rapture. Fascination. About dreaming beautiful dreams that circle around a lover. Building castles in their honor. Examining each part of their soul and praising a simple look in their eyes. Their body becomes light. Seduction. Poetry. Splendor.” He clicks his tongue, eyes glued to Minseok’s bewildered stare. “I’m sorry, but you just don’t seem like you’d know much about that.”
At that, Minseok wants to laugh. f only he knew. “Really?”
Lu Han shrugs. “Your life is so constricted like the suits you wear. To be able to experience tru enthrallment ou have to be able to let yourself go.” It sounds like a dare, a wager Minseok is more than willing to accept.
“You barely know me,” Minseok says, dropping his gaze to the drink in his hand. “We’ve talked for less than one hour and you already got me all figured out?”
“You’re not exactly a closed book,” Lu Han mumbles.
“I’m boring, I know,” Minseok groans. Of course, someone as cultured as Lu Han could easily decipher a dull person like Minseok in one quick glance. He sees himself become disposable and disappointment fills his lungs. He breathes it out, letting the feeling mist between them. Lu Han doesn’t back down.
“There’s nothing boring about you,” Lu Han protests, and his lips form a beautiful smile. “For some reason I find myself sitting here, wanting to know everything there is to know about you. We are so different.”
“Different is good?” Is all Minseok is able to say.
“Different is good,” Lu Han echoes, reassuring, sliding back to his first position on the booth.
Too good to be true.
Happiness ends, Minseok reminds himself.
One week before Christmas it rains.
Minseok glances at a timber ornament of a deer sitting on his coffee table. It stands alone. His apartment doesn’t have any kind of decoration or personality. The figurine had been a gift from his mother two Christmas ago. The package had come from Austria, where his parents decided to spend the holidays that year. He had ripped the cardboard box up like an eager child, and ever since, the petite deer remained stationary and forgotten on the coffee table.
Strangely enough, it reminds him of a certain someone.
Something tickles his fingertips, and he reaches out to grab the tiny deer, turning it to the left so it faces the window. He recoils his hand and admires its new position. Still doesn’t feel right. Maybe if would be better for it to face the door.
Or the kitchen.
Or nothing at all.
The wood carved deer finds a new home on the shelf by his bedroom door, its head turned towards the wall.
The rain adorns his windows with droplets and the incessant sounds of it hitting the glass became a pleasing soundtrack to his thoughts. According to his schedule, Sunday evenings are usually reserved for cleaning. The laundry is already done and the apartment is spotless, so he grabs his tablet from his workbag, and before he knows it his fingers are typing away at the search engine.
Rio de Janeiro.
The images that welcome him are of a city that looks just as busy and nervous as the one he resides in. Except mountains decorate Rio de Janeiro’s skyline instead of skyscrapers and the seaside curves around the landscape, adding beautiful colors to the usual grey tones of a cosmopolitan area. A statue of a religious figure with open arms gazes down at the town like a guardian, overlooking the breathtaking scenery. He can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about this city, but it seems like it was built on prose, each image reminds him of music.
The miniature deer made of wood now stares straight at him as it reclaims its spot on the coffee table.
Thursday, December 20th, Minseok receives an interesting text message while he’s going over the books of one the company’s major clients, the numbers on the screen vanish as soon as he sees the name screaming at him on the display of his phone.
He clears his throat, quickly glancing over to the desks around him, and deciding its safe to check the message. His supervisor is way too busy arguing with his ex-wife over alimony (for the fifth time that week) to notice his indiscretion.
I’ll be doing a reading in a café two blocks away from your office in twenty minutes. Come by and say hi?
It’s already past three in the afternoon, Minseok had already taken his lunch break, and there’s absolutely no way he could just drop everything and run after Lu Han. The feeling settles painfully at the bottom of his stomach. He wants to go, and this scares him to death. His work is his life, a sole priority in his meek existence. He massages his aching temples as he types a reply.
Can’t. Gotta work. Sorry.
The phone quickly buzzes again in his hand, and Minseok lurches from his chair, attracting a couple of looks as he rushes to the restroom. Once he conceals himself away in an empty stall, he reads the words in his inbox.
Have a nice Christmas!
His throat constricts and something fizzes up his esophagus like he had swallowed a beehive. Tracks build in his mind as he constructs a highway of disoriented thoughts, racing purposelessly through fresh concrete, leaving indents of tire marks that read remorse.
“Fuck,” he mutters, hands curling into fists. “I must be going nuts.”
Minseok runs over to one of the sinks, scrubbing his hands persistently, rubbing aggressively under the sizzling hot water. He repeats the process twice, before looking at his reflection in the mirror, almost not recognizing himself.
“What am I doing?” He questions his own reflection, as drops of water tumble from his fingers into the counter.
He leaves the restroom with his head down, deciding to examine the cheap carpet instead of the top his co-workers heads as he makes his way over to his supervisor’s glass door. The man’s has his ear attached to the receiver, spewing out one insincere apology after the other. Minseok knocks on the glass and the man appears glad to see him as he motions for him to come inside.
“Sure. The money will be wired to you first thing tomorrow.” He sits on his desk, shaking as his head tiredly. “Today. Okay. No problem. I’m sorry. Please tell Jinri I’ll try see her Christmas morning? Jesus Christ, woman. I told you. I’m&ndash Shit. You know what? I don’t own you an explanation Goodbye.” His cellphone slams against the desk with a loud thud that makes Minseok jump in his spot. His supervisor throws his head back and grunts like an animal, before looking at Minseok again, heavy eye bags coloring his pale complexion.
“Women,” he says, clasping his hands together. “Don’t get married, Minseok. It’s a pain in the ass.”
Minseok laughs awkwardly, arms moving aimlessly at his sides. “Right. I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Jung.”
The man cranes his neck to look at the army of suits creating a melody of furious taps on keyboards. He nods approvingly, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s crunch time. How are we doing?”
“F-Fine. I was just going over the books for–,“ Minseok stars, scratching the back of his head. The man raises a finger in the air.
“You need a break. God, you are so young. Do you need the rest of the day off? You don’t look so good,” Mr. Jung bursts out, gesticulating like a mad man as he shifts in his seat. “Go. Do something for yourself. Leave the heavy lifting for the newcomers.” He laughs loudly; the sound makes a couple of heads turn from behind the glass.
“Are you– I mean The books– can’t–,“ Minseok rubs his raw hands together. The situation is almost comical. Mr. Jung’s face scrounges up in aggravation.
“Fuck the books, Minseok.” His voice is louder now, it rams against Minseok’s eardrums like a crash car. “In a few of years you’ll be as old as me. Sitting in his same chair.” He walks over to the luxury black chair behind his desk, dropping his entire body weight on it at once. “Regretting each time you picked work over personal life. Don’t be that guy, Minseok. Now go before I push you out myself.”
“Okay?” Minseok takes a few steps back, his hands finding the glass door behind him.
Another thought visibly crosses Mr. Jung’s mind. “You know what? Take the rest of the goddamn week off. It’s Christmas for fuck’s safe.”
“Sir, I couldn’t.”
“If I see your fat cheeks sitting behind that computer here tomorrow I’ll call your father and come up some bullshit reason for him to fire you.”
The treat sounds real enough. Either way, Minseok is not crazy to test it out.
“Erm. That won’t be necessary. Thank you?” He says meekly. “I’ll see you Monday.”
The man smiles from ear to ear, leaning his back against the chair. “Enjoy yourself, Minseok. Youth is a precious thing. You got the rest of your life to live like you’re forty.”
Minseok assents to that and exits Mr. Jung’s office, his entire body jittering with anxiety. As quickly as his shaking fingers allow him, he drags his phone out of his pocket, thumbs fumbling over the keys with urgency.
Actually, scratch that.
I’m leaving the office now.
See you soon.
Minseok feels his Blackberry chime in his hand as soon as he steps inside the elevator.
Maybe we’ll get something to eat at my place afterwards?
I’ll make you something. It’s the least I can do after making you listen to me read shitty poetry for one hour.
See in a bit!
His forehead touches the cool surface of the elevator’s wall. Very aware of how completely idiotic he looks, Minseok tries his best to hide the adamant grin that just can’t seem to leave his face.
When the elevator’s doors close, Girl Fro Ipanema tars playing on the speakers above him, and he giggles like a child. The sound bounces off the cubicle, ricocheting in his ear.
It’s been years since he had laughed like that.
The weather turns and an icy breeze breaks Minseok’s jacket, piercing the fabric, and causing a chill to run through his spine. The café sits at a busy intersection together with other scruffy establishments. Right next to it, there’s an antique store with a collection of vintage bar stools on display. He can already see Lu Han from where he stands and watches from afar as the golden haired mystery goes through his notes. His delicate fingers trace words written on a small black notebook.
As he observes Lu Han’s apprehensive stance from the street, Minseok finally understands that he’s struggling with the concept of actually being attracted to someone. Lu Han is almost a mythical creature, perusing through his life, and shaking up the core of his existence. He’s everything Minseok could never be. Beautiful, intelligent, and most of all he’ free.
When he raises his head again, he finds a pair of stealthy russet eyes boring into him. Invisible shackles bind his feet as Lu Han smiles softly, calling him inside. Minseok feels like a dumb teenager with a crush and wants to kick himself for it. But then again, he had never allowed himself experience the fever of adolescent love. Lost, as he swims leisurely in the middle of a lake of his own emotions, Minseok struggles to make his legs function, stepping inside the café with his hands trembling behind his back.
Lu Han immediately rises hastily out of his seat, lacking the usual elegant aura that had surrounded him before. He almost waddles over to Minseok’s side, squeezing through the walls of people between them.
“Hi,” he breathes out, lips slightly parted, chest expanding dramatically with each breath. Insecurity masks his typical effortless beauty.
“Did I miss anything?” Minseok is quick to ask.
He remembers crawling back to the office, regretting his decision to abandom his work, and Jongdae almost dragging him by the hair back to the elevator, reassuring him he’d take care of the last few accounts still needing a little bit of auditing. This entire ordeal had cost him at least thirty minutes, and by the look on Lu Han’s face, the reading had already been done. Minseok is never late for anything. He feels like puking all his inner organs out. An uncomfortable silence hangs above them; the hushed whispers of the crowd give Minseok a headache.
“Yeah,” Luhan finally says and purses his lips. “I already did my piece. You managed to escape that.” He chuckles. “But I’ll be doing a reading of a Vinicius de Moraes poem in a bit. Actually, hold on.”
He digs his hands into his coat’s pockets, his eyebrows knit together in concentration as he fumbles over his clothing. Eventually, he finds what he’s looking for, and hands a square envelope over to Minseok, who accepts it eagerly.
“It’s a mix CD. I know people don’t make these anymore. But I wanted to share some of my favorite songs with you. I’ve actually included a few translations inside. I hope you like it.” Lu Han points over to the list, carefully written in immaculate cursive handwriting. “Am I creeping you out? Please tell me. I tend to be a bit too intense with people I just meet. I just–”
“No. No,” Minseok quickly interrupts. “I like it. Thank you, I’ll listen to it when I get home.”
Lu Han smiles, relief washing over his expression. “Don’t run away, okay? I promised you dinner.”
With a wink, he makes his way over to the corner of the room, where a small stage had been set up for him. He climbs up, taking his spot behind the microphone. The room slowly grows quiet, and all spectators present seize their conversations to look at him. There it is once again, the daring look, which Lu Han wears once he knows he’s in control, as if the power of attention drives him into a different state. Fierce eyes scan the room, falling on Minseok in the end, screaming soundless words at him Watch me. Want me.
When you lead an empty life, the tiniest display of affection is enough to fill the void completely. A simple look turns into an ocean and the waves grow as tall as buildings, causing one’s mind to succumb to an illusion. Minseok stands at the edge of a cliff, the abyss is so tempting. At the bottom, he’ll either find a boat, which will take him on the journey of his life–
Or he’ll drown.
“This is calle A Você, Com amor,” Lu Han announces, faint murmurs still linger around the café, and Minseok feels them slowly fade into the background. “I translated this myself. Hopefully it still captures the emotions behind Vinicius’ words.” His gaze drops to the black notebook in his hands, and with a deep intake of breath he beings, “Love is the Earth's whisper after the stars fade, and the winds of dawn blow the birth of the day.”
There’s that word again, love, a mystery that consumes Minseok’s inner workings. What binds two people together? Social obligation would be his usual answer. People band together because it’s comfortable, and it takes a whole lot of courage to be alone. Loneliness is a monster. It wakes up at 3AM, making you feel every bit of yourself crave for a sympathetic ear that will just listen and not judge. It confuses the walls of with friendly faces, causing you to spill your brains at them, hoping that someone will listen. It ends with anger, wanting to break every dish in your house because all you can think about is why.What’s wrong with me?
“The sincere laugh, the shiny joy of the lips, the sources and the wave that balances the sea.” Tears build in Lu Han’s eyes, and he blinks them away. “Love is the memory that time can not kill, the well-loved song happy and absurd.”
Minseok thinks about his life so far and how colorless it has been. Images come to his mind, college friends whom he had lost touch with. Solitude moves in after graduation. It takes up a lot of space in his life, suffocating him. As time passes, he learns how to tame that monster, filling his time with trivialities to distract his mind. He spends days without speaking, voice sounding hoarse with disuse when he greets the doorman in the morning, his sole social binding. Minseok thinks he has beaten loneliness, keeping it close, and befriending it. When Lu Han comes along, with his sweet voice, long eyelashes, and overall beautiful soul, it brings it all back. His heart clenches as he watches the boy on stage, paying attention to the words he proclaims. He craves all of that.
Lu Han inhales sharply, his breath echoes in the microphone. He takes a dramatic pause before continuing. “It is the unheard music. The silence that shakes and seems to fill a shivering heart, when the melody of a bird song wants to remain within.”
The room is quiet and Lu Han’s spectators drink in his performance with great interest. Minseok is just another face in the crowd, just another wide-eyed fan of the poet’s charm. Lu Han’s hand climbs up the metal stand, curling around the microphone as he lets his eyes explore the room’s tall ceiling.
“Love is God in fullness, the infinite extent of the gifts that come with the sun and the rain, whether in the mountains, whether in the fields; it is the rain that falls and the treasure stored at the end of the rainbow.” With that, he takes a bow. “Thank you.” And the room explodes with cheers and applause.
Love, Minseok thinks is something I’ve never been able to define for myself.
Lu Han jumps off the platform, accepting the many praises he receives as he slowly meanders through the crowd towards Minseok. It feels surreal. With each step Lu Han takes in his direction Minseok has to keep reminding himself he’s the one Lu Han seeks Why me?
“Dinner,” Lu Han says, grabbing Minseok’s arm and dragging him towards the door. “I’m cooking.”
This is what waking up in an alternate reality must feel like. Lu Han’s touch is warm, even through the fabric of his sleeves. It’s the only thing that makes Minseok believe all of this this is, in fact, real. Lu Han leads him through the streets, the chilly weather causing them to walk close together.
Love is the memory that time cannot kill.
Except eternity only exists in fiction, and Minseok has never been a fan of fantasy.
Lu Han’s apartment is only a couple of blocks down from the coffee shop, up in the trendy part of town. From the moment Minseok steps inside, the outbursts of colors all over Lu Han’s living space overwhelm him. The walls are colored in warm tones, ranging from orange to yellow. Exotic artworks add even more hues to the pallet. Weirdly enough, everything comes together brilliantly.
It’s a swanky one bedroom, with a spacious living area, decorated with antique furniture. A massive stereo system sits where a television should be, already playing a melody in Portuguese, and endless shelves of CDs and LPs complement it. Minseok scans the titles as the smell of garlic rises from the kitchen.
“Hope you like pasta. It’s the only thing I know how to make.” Lu Han emerges from the doorway, a glass of wine resting in his hand. “Try this.”
Minseok approaches him warily, taking the glass from Lu Han’s hands, their fingers brush momentarily and he feels his skin tingle. Lu Han watches attentively as the other takes a cautious sip.
“It’s Portuguese,” he informs, as if this would spark any sort of recognition. Minseok just nods as he takes in the flavor. “It’s like you can taste the air from the countryside in it. Makes me feel like spending the rest of my life out in the wild somewhere. Away from this crazy city.”
All Minseok is able to do is assent in agreement. It tastes like any other red wine to him, but he keeps that to himself. His eyes trail off to one of the walls in Lu Han’s living room, the one behind the couch. A large world map covers most of the wall, a disarray of postcards embellish it. In them, Lu Han writes little anecdotes about the places he had visited. Moscow’s, for example, reads ‘Cold. Very Cold. Brrr’. nd it makes Minseok laugh. The gap over the large patch of land in South America is very apparent. He turns back around, but Lu Han had already recoiled back into the kitchen.
After a few moments, Lu Han comes back with two steaming plates, looking very pleased with his creation. He motions for Minseok to sit on the floor, by the coffee table. When they are both settled, digging into Lu Han’s delicious chicken pesto pasta, Minseok raises his head to look at the map again.
“So you’ve never actually been to Brazil?” He asks absentmindedly, spiraling his fork into his plate to get another mouthful.
Lu Han frowns, his fork clings against the plate. “Sadly, no.”
The answer is curt, but Minseok already has a couple of wineglasses in his system, so he insists. “Why?”
The other sighs, wetting his lips with more of the Portuguese mauve before turning his head to look at the map. “Putting your dreams on the wall makes them seem a little bit real, doesn’t it? Teenage girls put posters of their stars on the walls of their bedrooms. Boys rip magazine pages of soccer players–“
“Or naked women,” Minseok adds, and Lu Han cackles deliciously.
“Right,” he says, after regaining his composure. “It helps us visualize it. So it seems reachable and not so distant.”
It doesn’t make sense. Minseok raises an eyebrow, looking puzzled. “Why do you think Rio is so distant? You’ve been everywhere. It’s just another plane ride away.”
“You really think like an accountant,” Lu Han mocks, the boy sitting across from him shrugs, faking offense. “It’s not the city, Minseok. It’s what it represents.”
Minseok chews, still trying to make sense, but grasping Lu Han’s words sometimes felt like trying to catch air. When Minseok doesn’t respond, Lu Han sighs again, louder this time.
“I’ve spent my entire life learning about this city. Listening to music written there, worshiping it’s beauty,” Lu Han explains, breaking the silence. He taps his silverware gently in the border of his plate along to the music in the background. “I’ve learned the tongue just so I could understand the poetry behind these words better. It’s a huge part of my life.”
The music stops. Lu Han quickly walks over the stereo, clicking the buttons until another tunes fills the silence with the strums of an acoustic guitar. “I don’t want this to be just another trip. I want it to complete me,” he says over the music, peering at Minseok through his eyelashes. As an accountant should, he remains speechless at this. Lu Han smiles sadly. “You wouldn’t understand.”
The writer is quick to assume, as always. He’s wrong, though. Minseok does understand. He doesn’t wan this, whateve thisis, to be another futile try at a social contract. Two lonely souls pushed together by the fear of not fulfilling society’s expectations. His entire life Minseok had been a hollow shell, until that night a Ipanema. But relationships don’t just sprout off the ground like flowers in the side of the highway.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get all–,” he breaks into a nervous giggle, sliding across the carpet back to his spot in coffee table.
“It’s okay,” Minseok gestures dismissively.
Minseok hands Lu Han his plate, the ware clings and clatters as it makes its way down to the sink, steaming water causing the leftover pieces of chicken to slide easily off and down the drain. Minseok now watches, leaning against the wall, as Lu Han hums along to the song now blasting off the stereo in the living room, washing the dishes carelessly.
“It’s funny,” Minseok muses, cool wine glass pressed against his cheek. “I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor today.”
Lu Han closes off the valve before drying his hands with a worn out yellowed piece of cloth.
“What was it about?” He turns his body around, pressing the small of his back against the sink, hands eagerly reaching for his own glass, gulping half its contents with one sip.
“He said I needed to live my life while I’m young. Gave me the rest of the week off. I don’t even know what to do with myself, to be quite honest,” Minseok laughs, and Lu Han mirrors that action, sitting his now empty glass back on the counter.
“But he’s right,” he says, voice ringing with morality. “We’re twenty-five, at the prime of our lives, and you’re living like the best times have already passed. People like you live long tedious lives and die alone in a bed made of regrets.”
“Wow,” Minseok snorts, sound a bit hurt, “thanks for that.”
Lu Han grabs the wine bottle, frowning when he sees it’s now empty. “You can still change. That’s the beauty of being young. Nothing is final now. We can still squeeze every single drop of juice out of life.” He walks over to one of the cabinets in the kitchen, digging an arm into it and invoking yet another wine bottle. “This one is Italian. It’s kinda dangerous.”
Minseok downs another sip of the Portuguese in his glass, watching as Lu Han takes off the cork with skill. “Why?”
“Because it either makes me want to do two things,” he answers, holding the unbroken cork like a treasure. He grabs a black marker from the top of the refrigerator, scribbles something at the bottle and chucks it inside a glass bowl, already spilling with corks and caps. After giving his collection a satisfied look, he stirs his gaze back into the man leaning against the wall. “Sleep or have sex.”
Minseok has to hold himself together as the wine he’s trying to swallow almost comes out of his nose.