word count: ~18k
warnings: sexual content, language, and mid-20's existentialism.
summary: a quater-life crisis and a few missed connections. intimacy vs. isolation.
note: based on this quote.
"Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness."
– Alejandro Jodorowsky
Life tramples youth like a train moving at high speed. High school turns into a blur. Suddenly that quiet sixteen year old who couldn't get a date to prom is twenty two, living alone in a strange city and getting by on ramen noodles. It was all as easy as taking a nap, except one day Lu Han wakes up and an abundance of responsibilities fall on his shoulders. The dream is over, and now he stands on his pajamas with some childish print, brewing his morning coffee before work.
The floor is cold as autumn becomes winter, and Lu Han simply stands there in the middle of his kitchen staring into the walls wondering how the fuck did he even get here. Just yesterday he had been a high school freshman watching anime on Saturday nights (not like it's any different now), and procrastinating on his biology project. It wasn't that long ago that he'd sneak out of his room through the window, climb down the tree on his yard and take off with his best friends to drink beers in someone had stolen off their dad's freezer. Everything seemed like the end of the world back then. Every problem amplified to a million decibels, screaming in his ear as if not being attracted to girls or having a crush on the straightest boy ever would eventually kill him.
It didn't, of course. He lived through it all: coming out of his parents, getting into a good college, moving out, and losing his virginity (which ended up being majorly anti-climatic). Five years after his high school graduation, Lu Han had lost touch with his alleged best friends. Everyone had extraordinary lives he only knew about through Facebook, the perfect jobs, relationships, and social lives. Lu Han thought he lacked on every single point. He shared a broken down flat with a person he barely spoke to, worked a fruitless job at a design agency where spent his days making copies and bringing in Starbucks, and had no social circle at all. One couldn't exactly say that drinking wine alone and watching Netflix living it up.
To summarize, Lu Han felt pathetic, alone, and a complete disappointment as an adult. The classic example of an early-twenties crisis, feeling excluded from the stereotypical figure of adulthood he had imagined himself to become. Lu Han doesn't have time to read exciting novels, or articles about social justice that would stir up conversation at parties. He doesn't watch travel documentaries about distant countries, or makes plans for a life changing vacations. Life drags on from nine to five, and then there are freelance design projects still to complete in order to pay the rent. No glamour or sparks. It's all deadlines, bills, and deciding how he's gonna feed himself that week.
His coffee's almost cold by the time he realizes he had to get into his work suit or he'd be terribly late. Lu Han fills up the travel mug and shoves down a piece of toast. That would have to serve for breakfast.
The train is unbelievably full just like any other day, and he listens to mindless pop music on his Ipod. He bobs his head to the beats, trying to make commuting less terrible. There's a bearded man with horrible body odor pressing him directly against one of the walls of the train. It's okay, though. He had worst days.
As routine, he gets a call from his asshole boss asking him to make a Starbucks run before getting in the office. He obliges, taking the usual detour towards the one closest to the building. All the baristas already knew him, of course. The pretty blonde girl named Jessica had his orders memorized, which made his life a lot easier. But instead of Jessica's bored expression, he finds a different face behind the counter today.
The boy is a little bit shorter than him, with inviting eyes and a beautiful smile. Lu Han's heart beats a little faster. His mind goes numb, and the words get jumbled up in his throat. A smile spreads across the face of the cute barista.
"Good morning," he greets in singsong. Lu Han forces his brain to function, closing his eyes for a moment to stabilize himself.
"Erm, what happened to Jessica?" Lu Han asks, and he knows it isn't ideal, but he needs to buy himself some time.
"I'm not exactly sure. She quit a few weeks ago. I think she's getting married," the boy explains a little awkwardly. "Today's my first day actually." He points towards his nametag. "Minseok."
"Minseok," Lu Han repeats biting his lower lip and averting his gaze. "Well, good luck on your first day!"
The rest of the conversation fades to normalcy as Lu Han makes his order, carefully making sure to remember's everyone's preferred drinks. Designers could get quite picky about their Starbucks. The new barista, Minseok, struggles to get everything down, and a few frustrated sighs arise from the other people in line. Eventually, he goes get the order right, and Lu Han drops the company credit card in his hand.
"Can I get your name?" Minseok asks, and Lu Han knows this is protocol, but it still makes his mouth go dry.
"L-Lu Han," he stammers as he moves on to the other end of the counter. Minseok hands him the receipt and smiles shyly before moving on to the next customer.
With a two full cup holders, Lu Han carefully dashes through the crowded streets of the downtown area. He's late, of course, and the meeting scheduled for 9:30am wouldn't start until all the people from the creative division had their coffee. His boss would certainly add in some passive-aggressive notion about it during his opening speech. He isn't looking forward to it.
He manages to make it into the building just minutes before the meeting, setting all their orders down on the conference table as he tries to catch his breath. His co-workers mumble their thanks as they flock towards the cups like wild animals towards a carcase.
Yifan, his boss, is lean, tall, and sharply dressed. A genius in the design world who had his work featured on Creative Quarterly by the age of sixteen. He now heads the creative department of a leading design firm. Yifan the same age as him but entirely more successful, like a living and breathing reminder of Lu Han's mediocrity. Watching him work his magic and come up with amazingly intelligent projects with ease did not help Lu Han's inferiority complex. It doesn't help that the guy is a jerk, with an ego as long as his legs.
"You managed to make it in time today," Yifan notes before taking a sip of his caramel macchiato. "Talk to Yixing, there are a few documents I need you to look over for me."
Lu Han nods and makes his escape out of the room silently, slumping his shoulders as he walks down the hall. The day hasn't even started yet, and he feels like he needs a break, not only from work but from life in general. There's this weird feeling at the pit of his stomach. He feels inept, trapped inside a sinking ship.
Before reaching Yifan's assistant's desk, Lu Han makes a sharp left turn towards the break room. Maybe he could derail a little and get something from the vending machine, some chocolate to soothe the edge. Absentmindedly, he puts his hands down his pockets and when his fingers find a foreign piece of paper he halts. It's the receipt from all the coffee he had purchased for his boss, however, on with it there is a phone number, a name, and smiling emoticon.
Kim Minseok :)
"So, are you going to call him?"
Lu Han ponders on the question for a bit.
First of all, he'd never, in a million years, imagine that one day he'd get a number from someone. Not that he thinks he's the ugliest thing on the planet, not at all, the countless self-taken shots on this cellphone (and his Instagram account) would tell you otherwise. The reality is that he feels unworthy. Who'd get picked up by a cute guy while making a coffee run for their boss? For Lu Han, this shows Minseok that he's not at all successful. Definitely not someone who owned an apartment with a nice view, or could afford to take him on extravagant dates. Just another loser getting by on an assistant's salary.
His other argument would be how to conduct the call if calling his mother sometimes caused him immense anxiety. How do you even proceed from this? His mind tries to piece a million possible dialogues together, but nothing sounds rational or not unpleasant. The mere thought of dialing the numbers makes his palms sweaty.
He looks at Yixing, the only person at the office who gives him the time of day, and simply shrugs. "I don't know."
His friend's jaw drops. "What do you mean you don't know." Yixing jumps from his chair and loops his arm around Lu Han's dragging him towards a hallway. "This is your chance to get laid, Lu Han. Don't blow this off."
Panic sets in Lu Han's mind, this is all progressing too fast. First he gets hit on, now he's thinking about bringing Minseok to his shithole apartment and making sure there are no crumbs on his bed before he invites him in. He could see the situation unfolding, Minseok's disgusted look as he steps inside and notes the pile of Lu Han's accumulated laundry, the messy living room, and the carpet full of wine stains. This is disaster waiting to happen.
"Stop overthinking this." Yixing snaps him out of it, grabbing Lu Han's jaw and forcing him to look directly at him. "Look, how about we go to lunch together, and I'll hold your hand through it."
Lu Han groans, setting himself free from Yixing's grasp. "No way."
"This is not up for discussion." Yixing ends it at that, dropping a stack of documents that needed to be copied and faxed into Lu Han's arms before heading back to his desk.
A long sigh makes its way out slowly through Lu Han's nostrils as he drags himself towards the copy room. It would be a long day.
High school had not been easy for the nerdy and quiet kid who was new in town. Lu Han had no friends or relatives in this new city. His father had been promoted and moved the whole family to the suburbs, where everything appeared to be perfect and polished. Every family on his block put out signs in their front yards representing their kids' achievements. Head cheerleaders, basketball champions, and even mathletes. Each and every household is perfectly structured with a mother, a father, the overachieving kids, picket fence and a dog. Except for that single mother on the house at the end of the block, but everyone talked about her. Hide your husbands, they used to say, or she'll come steal them away.
Lu Han's family never actually participated in that kind of gossip, they kept to themselves most of the time, even after scrupulous attempts from the homeowners association to pull them to their weekly meetings. Both of Lu Han's parents were born and bred in the big city and found humor in their new neighbors lifestyle. They'd constantly make fun of them during their dinners, and laugh about their ridiculous newsletters.
That was one thing he couldn't complain. Lu Han's home life was exemplary and safe. His parents were both writers, all mushy and loving. They were old hippies from the coast who had met in a poetry jam and fell in love almost immediately. Things did change after the move, though. It was that Lu Han's mother was displeased at their new place. She missed the city, and it's buzzing life. The suburbs never truly felt like home to her.
It didn't surprise Lu Han one bit when he came home from school and found his father crying in the living room, holding his mother's beautifully written goodbye note. She had vanished, leaving behind a husband and son. Her carefully structured words on the page did not bring them any comfort. From then on, Lu Han hated her from tearing apart their family. He was now what the people around them considered broken, damaged goods. A single father with a teenage son. They'd sure be the new talk of the town.
In order to save his father from having a complete mental breakdown, Lu Han remained strong and only allowed himself to cry alone in his room with closed doors. His insides were ripped apart, and everything he'd ever known had suddenly become dust. A rug had been pulled from under his feet. Everything felt upside down. At fourteen, he felt as if this were too much, and had a taste of how the world was unfair and unforgiving.
At school, he never made many friends. For months, everyone looked at him funny and acted weird whenever they spoke to him. There goes the poor kid whose mother had abandoned him. He hated it, the looks of pity and the penitent words. So, he confined himself in a sketchbook, drawing colorful lines that later on would become the inspiration behind his career choice. Art became an escape, and with paper and ink he made his imaginary world, where nothing was out of place, and all the angles lined up perfectly. He erased the mess out of real life, cutting out it's rough edges and living a vision of his own.
He crawled into a forced state of loneliness, learning how to survive the school days without speaking to anyone or even been seen. Lu Han had been a model student, getting perfect grades so that his father wouldn't have anything to worry about. His report cards would hang from the fridge as if to show the world that everything was fine that he was perfectly okay with their new life.
But people did find a way to crumble over Lu Han's protective shell. There was a lot of outsiders who decided to make him one of their own. A quirky girl named Seohyun, the science nerd Jongdae, fellow artist Zitao, and stoner Sehun. It was weird at first, having a reserved seat at the cafeteria for him every day, and a safe place where he could be himself and not the charity case everyone made him out to be. They'd make weird jokes, get together after school to watch movies at each other's houses, or just stroll down the local mall and share fast food. It wasn't the ultimate high school experience Lu Han had expected from the movies and TV shows, but it was all he needed.
Senior year came before they least expected it. They were all growing up, but the shoes of future college students didn't fit terribly well. Lu Han still couldn't get behind the wheel of a car without wanting to cry, and his friends were more than reluctant to cast the refuge of childhood away. We're teenagers still, they'd say. We can still watch cartoons on Sundays, eating cereal in our pajamas. We don't have to drink coffee, watch the news, and get acquainted with the reality that awaits us real soon.
Soon, their weekly trips to the mall turn into secret get-togethers to smoke weed and drink beer. Zitao's father had a fridge at his garage always stored with cheap brew. They'd hang together in the dark, talking about their afflictions. It was at one of those get-togethers that Lu Han had his first kiss. Seohyun had a little bit too much to drink, and was feeling sad that none of the boys had asked her to the homecoming dance. Without thinking too much of it, Lu Han said he'd take her. It would be fun, they could go as friends. The girl's eyes glistened in the dark, and their lips met for a moment when they were away from everyone's perception. They kept it a secret, awkwardly laughing the moment away. Lu Han couldn't find the heart to reject her, but eventually took the opportunity to tell everyone a fact that had been eating away at his insides.
"I'm gay," he had said to them as they gathered in Zitao's garage. He had a few beers in his system and was feeling daring. For a few seconds he couldn't dare to face them, Seohyun was there, and the homecoming dance was just days away. He didn't know what she expected, but he felt like this was the right thing to do. These were his friends. If he couldn't be honest with them, then he truly was alone in this world.
Zitao was the first one to speak, opening another can of beer and placing it between Lu Han's hands. "So?" He laughs it off. The rest of them followed, even Seohyun, who reached out to pat Lu Han in the shoulder.
"We love you, man," Sehun had said, opening his bony arms.
And that was that. No weird questions or judgmental looks. Lu Han laughed along with them, feeling his eyes burn with tears of joy. It was like he had finally found that missing piece that had been lacking his entire life, and this group of losers were it.
That weekend, Lu Han had gathered up the courage to drive his father's Corolla to Seohyun's house to pick her up for the dance. She looked beautiful in a white dress and flowers braided into in her long honey blonde hair. It wasn't awkward as he thought it would be. As a matter of fact, it was brilliant. They had tons of fun together, moving and twirling through the dance floor as if they were the only ones there.
Later that night when Lu Han had dropped her home, her shoes with a broken heel lying pathetically on her lap, the girl reached over and planted a kiss on the corner of his lips. She thanked him for making her feel beautiful and not invisible for the first time in her life.
"I love you guys, I really do. But I'm a stupid teenage girl with all these force-fed insecurities. I can't help it," she ranted, placing a streak of hair behind her ear and looking down at her bare feet. "I don't wanna be just one of the boys anymore, you know? I want to be important. I want to matter to someone."
Lu Han felt a heavy load in his chest. He couldn't listen to this, not from Seohyun, an exceptionally bright girl with the best sense of humor in the world, and beautiful eyes that lit up every time she talked about her expectations towards her future. He couldn't love her in the way she wanted, but he could make her feel wanted. It might not be fair, but he didn't know what else to do. Desperation kicked in and he leaned forward, pressing his lips against hers and digging his hands into her soft hair.
Seohyun responded quickly, pulling him closer to deepen the kiss. They were breathless when Lu Han finally let her go. She told him to kill the engine and wait for her signal by her bedroom window. It all happened so fast, he had no time to think all this through. Before he knew it, he was climbing inside her bedroom, all pink and with walls cluttered with cutouts from magazines. There were Barbie dolls and stuffed animals decoration the top shelves, and Lu Han felt like an intruder in her personal area. Seohyun took the lead, unzipping her dress and pulling Lu Han towards her bed.
"This isn't anything," she had whispered, breathless as she struggled to unhook her bra. "You make me feel safe. It couldn't be anyone else. We're doing this as friends."
Lu Han nodded, instinct kicking in as he begun to undress as well. It was crazy, careless, and but for some weird reason, Lu Han didn't think he'd come to regret it. Maybe this was part of growing up too, accepting life's roughness and sharp turns. Instead of fighting it, just go with the flow. He couldn't lie, no matter how awkward and imperfect it was, Lu Han enjoyed every minute of it. The moment was theirs, and they owned it, locking it deep inside their hearts forever. It was beautiful in its own messed up way.
He left Seohyun's house by dawn, jumping inside his father's car and speeding to make sure he walked through his front door before the man woke up. Everything worked out fine, and he makes himself his first pot of coffee that day, standing in the kitchen still wearing his tuxedo.
Graduation snuck up on them, and it was the ultimate test. The group was dismantled by SATs and college entrance letters. Seohyun got her ticket to a faraway land, her dream was coming true, and Lu Han was so happy for her. Zitao got into a local art school, and decided he'd major in art history, not that he knew exactly what to do with that diploma, but he decided it was something that he'd worry about later. Sehun, surprisingly, decided to go into social sciences, and got accepted to a state school not too far away from home. They were all surprised that their favorite little pothead actually had committed life goals. Jongdae got a full ride to the most prestigious science and math institutes in the country. Not like anyone expected less from him. The kid was a genius after all.
They gathered one last time at the famous garage, each of them holding up acceptance letters. All excluding Lu Han, who hadn't received his yet and was starting to panic. Maybe he'd get left behind. They'd all go out into the world, go to college, get jobs, and start making on their way towards adulthood. Lu Han saw himself standing a million steps back, alone as he watched everyone wave goodbye at him. Seohyun rested her head on his shoulder, wrapping a comforting arm around him.
"You'll be fine," she whispered in his ear. "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."
Lu Han smiled weakly, recognizing these words. They were written in lipstick on Seohyun's mirror. "James Dean."
"You know me," she said, throwing her hair back theatrically, "I'm a sucker for old school beauty."
Lu Han laughs, feeling a bit of the pressure in his shoulders melt away. The group broke into separate conversations, and the two of them remained silent, comforting each other with little hidden touches.
"Don't forget me," Lu Han had said under his breath. It was as if he had thought out loud, airing out his innermost secrets. His biggest fear was to be left behind. After gaining so much, and having tasted true friendship, he couldn't bear to be ripped away from it.
Seohyun held him closer, letting her lips shyly kiss the top of his forehead. "Never."
But promises made at eighteen don't hold. A week later, they all depart towards their new futures. Lu Han's nightmare became reality, and he stood by himself at train platforms and airport gates, waving goodbye to his friends as they moved forward.
It had been a long summer, checking the mailbox every single day for any news that he was already convinced wouldn't come. Then, that fateful Sunday came, when he came home from his part time job and found a ripped envelope on the kitchen counter. His father sat on the dinning table, unpacking take-out chinese food. He had a broken smile stretched on his lips as he handed Lu Han a pair of chopsticks.
"I'm sorry," he had said, in a tone so low Lu Han could barely hear. "Sit. Eat with me, please. We won't get to do this for a long time."
Lu Han didn't process the information right away, but when it did hit him, his legs trembled. He took a seat in front of his father, not accepting any of the food he offered him. He felt sick. "You hid the letter from me?"
It made sense. His father had become detached over the past few months, closing himself off in his room and refusing to talk about Lu Han's potential move. The college he had applied to was in the city they left behind to join suburban life. The same place his mother chose over their family. Lu Han felt his throat burn as he tried to find a way to explain that he wasn't like her. He wasn't going to sneak out and leave a well-written note to vindicate his cowardice. This was his future, and the city had a million offers for him. It hurt to leave his father behind, but it was a necessary. It was part of growing up, cutting the cord and setting off into an adventure of his own.
"I didn't want you to go," the man said choking on his words. "You're the only thing I have left."
Lu Han stood up from his chair and ran off towards his father, wrapping his arms around the man who did everything to fill in the gap inside their home. He forgave him for holding the letter back, for being scared of letting his son go. They spent the whole night talking, comforting each other on their anxieties over this new chapter in their lives. Eventually, it all felt less torn, and old wounds began to heal.
They said goodbye to each other at the airport, and for the first time, Lu Han felt scared. It wasn't a weekend trip, it was a move he couldn't back away from. Independence is a rocky road, his father had said, but it was one Lu Han was ready to face. It had finally come his time to wave goodbye and move on.
His cell phone stays untouched at the center of the table. Yixing throws him a judging look, waiting a few seconds and then giving up and turning his attention back to his food. Lu Han picks at his salad, adding more dressing to appear like he is doing something. An inhibiting task that, unfortunately, gets in the way of making unwanted phone calls. Who's to say Minseok, the cute barista, would pick up? What would Lu Han even say if he got his machine? Hi, you gave me your number. What do I do now?
"Fuck this," Yixing says dropping his knife and fork. He reaches forward and grabs Lu Han's phone before the other could make a move. "I'm dialing. You can't stop me."
"What the fuck." Lu Han tries to take the phone away from Yixing's grasp, but the man is fast. He turns his back towards him, successfully dialing the number and then throwing the phone back into Lu Han's hands.
"Don't freak out," Yixing mouths. Easy for him to say. Lu Han's feels just a couple of steps away from a heart attack with each dial tone.
The seconds drag on forever, and he's sure that call is going to go to voicemail. When he least expects it, a perky voice greets him on the other end of the line.
He freezes, his free hand shaking uncontrollably on top of the table. Yixing motions for him to take a deep breath, and he obeys without questioning. "Hello, Minseok? This is Lu Han."
"Oh my god, you actually called." An awkward laugh comes through, and it's so cute Lu Han wished he could record it and listen to it on rainy days. Could this guy stop throwing him curveballs for one second?
"Erm. Yeah," Lu Han chokes, grabbing Yixing's sleeve and throwing him a glance that said, please help me. The man sitting across from him acts immediately, getting his phone and typing out a few words. He switches the screen over to Lu Han. "I was so surprised when I saw your number on the receipt, I couldn't wait to call you." He reads it all word for word, and it doesn't sound too awful. It shows interest without sounding overbearing. Okay, time for another deep breath.
"Well, do you think that maybe we could get together for a movie or–," Minseok trails off with another one of those laughs. Lu Han thinks he could never get sick of them.
"A movie?" Lu Han repeats out loud, now in full blown panic. Yixing quickly types out another reply. "That sounds perfect." It sounded so cliche and robotic, but it's better than breaking into tears and hanging up on his poor man's face. Which had been Lu Han's first plan of action.
"I'll text you when I know when I'll get the evening off from work." The conversation is coming into a close, and Lu Han feels the pressure in his chest slowly diminishing. He did it. He has a date. Holy shit.
"I'll be waiting!" That wasn't a part of Yixing's script, and he slaps himself on the forehead for sounding like pathetic teenager. It all becomes okay when Minseok lets out another throaty laugh, sweet melody to Lu Han's ears.
They hang up, and Lu Han begins immediately to dig into his salad, shoving vast amounts of lettuce in his mouth to distract his brain from what had just happened. This isn't him. Lu Han doesn't get numbers from guys. Lu Han doesn't go out on dates. Lu Han drinks alone and cries watching Marley and Me. He goes to bars to watch football matches with his Manchester United jersey, but never talks to anyone. The true Lu Han works, pays his bills, buys Star Trek memorabilia on Ebay, and reads comics books at 3am even when he has to be up early for work the next day. He prefers the season finales of his favorite shows over social events.
Yixing calls the waiter and asks for the check. "Good job, Lu Han. Don't screw this up."
This is way too much pressure.
The date ends up being set on that Friday. Minseok picks the movie, some French art piece about a 20th century parisian brothel. Lu Han couldn't even pronounce the title, let alone even grasp the movie's concept when he had read the summary online. Apparently it had gotten great reviews within hipster cinema blogs. Except for one confused, and very angry blogger who kept his critique short and simple: what was even the point of this movie? I was so bored I wanted to kill myself before it was over. Well, there's good and bad everywhere.
Lu Han waits in front of the shabby indie theater. There's already a line of bearded men in ironic t-shirts, and girls with too many colors in their hair. He definitely did not look the part in his dark jeans, shiny shoes, and black blazer. But not like he'd want to blend in with that crowd and be the stereotypical designer type with the tattoos and real fashion sense. Lu Han is bland, right angles, helvetica, and black and white. And he likes himself that way.
Minseok appears with two cups of bubble tea and a winning smile. It takes a lot of effort for Lu Han's knees to remain strong and upright. "Sorry, I'm late. What a terrible first impression. I just thought I'd grab these. I don't even know if you like them."
"Who doesn't like bubble tea," Lu Han says with so much enthusiasm it makes him want to punch himself in the face. Minseok hands him his, their hands touching for a few seconds and getting wet with condensation. Banana. Not exactly his favorite but he can deal with that.
They sip on their drinks in silence as they wait at the back of the long line. Lu Han takes the opportunity to examine his catch up close. Minseok is shorter, has shaggy black hair (hidden under an adorable red beanie), and the cutest cheeks Lu Han had ever seen. Not to mention, a great build, and what looked like to be strong, athletic thighs. He must have done something right in his life to deserve this gift from the heavens.
Or there must be something terribly wrong with this guy. He braces himself for that too.
"So," Minseok tries to spark conversation, and Lu Han perks his head up to listen. "I heard this movie got great reviews. I'm not sure what it's really about. A friend of mine at work recommended it to me. She said you'd like it."
Lu Han did know pretty much all of the baristas at that Starbucks. They shared a few casual conversations as he waited for his order. They all knew he worked at a design firm. Minseok had asked his co-workers for more information about him. He wonders what sort of thing did he ask. Does he seem like a nutcase? Does he like mexican food? What kind of music is he into? Do you think he'd sleep on the first date?
That would be a long and resounding yes.
"Which one? Is it Tiffany? Or Yuri. I like Yuri. She gives me free scones sometimes," Lu Han babbles, slurping on the last of his bubble tea.
"It was Yuri. She said you seemed like a cool guy. The artsy type. Is she right?" Minseok asks, and his face twists into a nervous expression. Lu Han doesn't want to let him down.
"Yeah. Art. I like art. I'm an artist, sorta. Well, it's commercial art. People who like classical hate me." What a true conversationalist. Articulate as always, Lu Han bites on his straw to shut himself up.
Minseok shrugs. "I'm a fan of modern stuff."
Stuff. Lu Han makes a mental note to add a negative check on his columns of pros and cons. "What do you do other than make awesome drinks at Starbucks?"
"What? Can't a guy be a full time barista and be happy with his life," Minseok retorts and before Lu Han could apologize, he places both hands in the air. "Joking. I'm sort of in the arts business too. Or trying to be. I'll show you later."
When is later exactly? And where? At his apartment? Is Lu Han really ready to have sex on the first date? He made sure to wear his new pair of boxers today so he wouldn't be caught in Captain America drawers. He just begs to all the higher entities that this guy isn't into anything weird, or isn't a serial killer preying on young men. With his luck, Minseok would probably turn out to be one of those weird My Little Pony fans or something like that. But then again, other people might think it's weird that Lu Han watches superhero movies and plans intricate Halloween costumes based on the latest blockbusters. Who is he to judge anyone?
They're almost inside the theater when Minseok grabs his arm and leans in to whisper. "Grab me a seat. I'll get us something good from the bar."
Now there's a man who knows a way to Lu Han's heart. Alcohol's everyone's best friend during nerving social situations. "I like red wine."
Minseok winks and disappears amidst the crowd. The place is jam packed and Lu Han has to almost jump over a couple to get a good seat, saving one for Minseok beside him with his jacket. Now all he had to do is pretend to understand, and enjoy the two-hour feature since he's planning to play the artsy role. Red wine, french film, and a date at a indie theater. He's living the dream.
"Maybe this wasn't exactly perfect a for a first date."
That's the first thing that comes out of Minseok's mouth when the credits begin to flow up the screen. Lu Han had been fighting the urge to fall asleep for the last hour or so. All these naked women and sex scenes. That last blogger ends up being right. Maybe he's far too dense to understand the complex undertones underneath it all. This makes him begin to feel inadequate. He is playing the part of a true lover of the arts, remember? Minseok guides him out of the theater with a steady hand on his shoulder, which sends a small chill down Lu Han's spine. His fingers reach the uncovered skin on the back of his neck, and the heat spreads all over his body. Lu Han's sure his cheeks are probably burning about now.
The situation grows even more awkward with each step. Usually, when Lu Han goes see movies with his friends, there's always that moment when he'd want to discuss what he just saw with the person accompanying him. It's a natural instinct. This time, he can't even begin to piece together what exactly happened on that screen. Everything blurs into weird camera angles, pops of color, and so much nudity. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, trying to make sense out of everything and just can't.
Minseok tries help him. "I feel like an idiot. I didn't really understand anything. You're probably internally laughing at me now."
"No!" Lu Han argues, waving his hands in a way that's almost hysterical. "It's a thing, you see? You're not supposed to understand. It's–," okay think back to art history classes, what was that world, "–subjective? Only the director actually knows the true meaning." An award for Lu Han in the art of bullshitting. That's how he had gotten through college, actually.
The boy next to him twists his lips. "I still don't get it. Maybe I'm too ignorant."
Lu Han feels bad for not immediately screaming, don't worry I'm a dumbass too because I have to clue what just happened, but he stays quiet as they make their way out back towards the street. Admitting defeat would be breaking out of character, and it's this role Minseok had pursued in the first place. He wants to keep him interested, but he doesn't know if he's doing it wrong? Because all over Minseok's stance Lu Han reads disappointment.
"Really, though," Minseok presses, pushing his hands inside the pockets of his jacket. A cold breeze blows and ruffles his bangs. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Lu Han questions and he can't look at Minseok for too long. This entire situation reeks of rejection. He knows what's coming next. Somehow, he manages to blow this.
"I don't know, I guess I miscalculated things."
Lu Han doesn't understand that sentence and has absolutely no idea how to respond to it. He stammers out a few isolated words with no connection to each other. It doesn't take long for Minseok to put him out of his misery.
"You're really nice, Lu Han–," he says, and Lu Han knows exactly how this sentence is going to end, so he cuts it short.
"I understand." He jumps the gun, holding up a hand in front of Minseok. He doesn't want to hear it, or deal with the fact he couldn't seem to hold a guy for one date. If you could even call it that. It was just two hours of boobs and a creepy plot. It's all terribly unsatisfying.
Minseok frowns. "You do?"
Lu Han nods in response, not truly in the mood to speak anymore for the rest of his life. He looks at his watch and notes that it is past 10pm and if he runs he'd be able to catch the next train. It's time to bid this stranger goodbye.
"Thanks for this, though," Lu Han tries and nothing else comes out of his mouth. He knows he sounds like an asshole, but he actually doesn't know what else to do in the face of rejection.
Minseok gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder, and that just felt like beating on a dead horse. "I'm sorry."
It's all settled with a flimsy handshake, and Lu Han runs out of there as fast as his unathletic legs would let him. Just like french cinema, what he just happened in front of the theater becomes a mystery to him. He rethinks entire conversations and goes through all the details in his head on the way back home. By the time he gets to his door, he convinces himself that a bottle of wine and pizza would be the best way to deal with all of this.
His roommate, Jongin, is out for the night. He left him a note about rent being due a week earlier for now on, which brought Lu Han back to reality real quick. If this were a normal night, he'd be running to the computer to check on his bank account and do some math. However, tonight has scheduled a pity party in his room, and no one else invited unless your name is cheap $9 wine or Domino's.
After getting his delivery, he shuts the door and settles into the floor, turning on his television to search for a movie to watch. Oh, awesome. Titanic is on. This night is just getting better and better.
Halfway through the bottle of wine, in the middle that iconic scene of Jack talking Rose out of jumping out of the boat, Lu Han's cellphone rings. It's dark in his room, and there are a lot of idle shoes and other things scattered all over the floor. He trips on his Macbook charger, and almost falls flat on his face. That would be a good way to die, he thinks.
He finds his phone on his bed, lost in the middle of tangled sheets. The name on the screen takes him by surprise, but he's already too drunk to ignore that call.
The boy seemed to expect a different greeting, or the machine. It takes him awhile to answer. "Hi, I'm sorry. Did I wake you? I didn't mean to call so late."
Lu Han doesn't even realize it's past midnight already. His usual bedtimes on weekends are around 5am, or when his body starts screaming, please, shut the computer down and go to bed. The hour doesn't even phase him. "I never sleep. It's okay."
This gets a low laugh out of Minseok. "Can't keep doing that. I heard it's bad for your health."
"Talking about things that are bad for your healthy. Funny thing, there's this article that says french cinema causes depression. Or leads to alcoholism." His glass is empty, so he runs for another refill. He couldn't possibly go through this conversation without more alcohol.
"That's why artists are always so gloomy and sad," Minseok jokes, now the punchline is on Lu Han.
He starts to eat the pizza crusts as he speaks, "We're not exactly allowed to be happy. Kinda part of the deal."
"I see," Minseok continues. "You use your pain as inspiration."
Lu Han hums trying to think of a good response. "More like as motivation. Or we don't get paid."
They laugh together this time, and it feels good. They were actually talking, playing around together and not so stiff and constricted into fitting in masks everyone else had placed for them. Lu Han lays with his back on the cold floor, playing around with them hem of his shirt as Minseok continues to joke about artists stereotypes. It becomes quite clear that none of them fit into any pre-existing box. They do, however, realize that their words match in every way possible. They understand each other easily, and once the walls come down, communicate with such flow that Lu Han has to stop himself from speaking too much sometimes.
"Feels good to be able to talk to someone," Minseok confesses, and by this time Lu Han had to plug his phone into his charger, extending their conversation for a few more hours. "I just moved here. It gets kinda lonely."
"Yeah, I don't get to have many meaningful conversations either," Lu Han says, trying to remember the last time he had felt so at ease with someone. He comes up with a blank. One question still boggles his mind. "What happened today, though?"
He hears Minseok pull him a sharp breath. "I honestly panicked. I thought you were too good for me. That I was just too dumb. And you'd get bored of me soon. So why bother."
Lu Han almost wants to laugh, while slapping himself on the face repeatedly. "Minseok, please. I almost fell asleep twice during the movie. I felt just as stupid. I'm not actually into this scene, but I thought you'd want me to be so–," Lu Han sighs, making a pause to finish off his bottle of wine, "–okay can we just agree not to do this anymore. For now on, it's all transparency."
"We're such dumbasses," Minseok snorts, and they take a moment to bask in their own stupidity fueled by a pool of insecurities. "I'm glad we were able to talk, though. This was really nice."
"Thank you for giving me another chance." The words roll off his lips drunkenly, far too gone to regret them. He thinks of thousands of strangers he sees on the streets every day. They all walk by, unnoticed, pretty much invisible to each other. Less than a week ago, Minseok had been a part of that crowd. It takes an effort to take a second look. Most people won't go that far.
"Let's count this as our first date, okay?" Minseok asks, and it seems like a fair deal. Lu Han chews on his bottom lip as his insides twirl, not only from the wine, but from expectation.
"Meet me tomorrow at this bistro downtown," Lu Han says, and it's all unfiltered, no over thinking or insecurities. It feels so good. "So we can continue this conversation. I need to sleep off all this drinking."
"It's a date," Minseok replies at once. Something bubbles in the pit of Lu Han's stomach. Okay, this isn't cutesy romantic stuff anymore. He needs to throw up.
They wish each other sweets dreams, and Lu Han bolts to the bathroom to say hello to his pizza once again. God, he feels terrible. All of the sudden, all that wine, cheese, and pepperoni don't sound so good anymore.
As he makes his way out of the bathroom, he runs into his roommate coming back from a night in the town. It had been fruitless, apparently. He stands alone in the living room and not with a lady friend in a little dress and smudged make up. Lu Han greets him with a nod.
"How did your date go?" Jongin asks, kicking his shoes off and throwing himself on the couch.
Lu Han raises an eyebrow. "How did you know I had a date?"
"You washed your sheets," Jongin notes, winking in his direction. "So, was it good?"
Lu Han leans against the doorframe and chuckles at himself. "It was okay."
Jongin shrugs turning the television on and switching to the sports channel. "Shouldn't have washed the sheets then."
College was supposed to be the best time of his life. Lu Han bought the dream everyone had sold him, as if independence would suddenly drop on top of his head and he'd transform into a total different person overnight.
Things progressed slowly, and he moved along with the tide. He didn't mind how quiet his new life had become, or that social outings had become pretty rare. Having someone there to party and share a with drinks with was easy enough, the hard part was finding someone he could trust. He missed his old life, his friends, and became overcome by nostalgia every now and then. There nights where letters (Seohyun had always prefered snail mail), old songs, and pictures turned into his best companions. The thing he missed the most was smiling, truly letting go and carelessly expressing joy. This new step in the ladder of his life was marked by apathy.
It wasn't all bad, of course. On his third year of design school, Lu Han met an interesting character during one of his daily outings around campus. Not a lot of people spent their days outside anymore, and the open field area in front of the library would always be deserted, even on the sunniest days. Lu Han liked spending a few hours sitting on a blanket, under the shade, reading a book. It brought him peace to unwind and not think about typography or deadlines for a while. This was his reserved time for reflection.
Until that day, when that certain someone kicked a football straight to his head. It was pathetically cliche, the charming, handsome guy rushing over to check on his victim. Quickly asking Lu Han if he was okay or hurt. Lu Han raised his head to really look at him, finding beautiful tanned skin and a blinding smile. It was stupid, but from that moment on he began to believe in love at first sight.
"Super sorry," the boy had said, getting his ball back and holding it under his arm. "You sure you're okay?"
Lu Han nodded, straightening his back and massaging the top of his forehead. "I'll be fine."
He wouldn't, but at that point he didn't think too much of it. Then, the boy kneeled down to his eye level and ruffled his hair. "You're cute. What's your name?"
It was a wild rollercoaster ride from there. Lu Han learned that the boy's name is Jongin, and that he's a performing arts major. He returned to his football match with his friends, and now Lu Han couldn't tear himself away. He watched from a distance as Jongin ran up and down the field, never giving up on a scoring chance, and throwing himself headfirst into a game that was merely for fun. His side did end up winning, though. Lu Han cheered silently from his spot.
Jongin made another approach after the game, all covered in sweat and unbelievable charm. He invited Lu Han to a get-together at his friend's apartment. There would be beer, girls, and some good music provided by a local band formed by students. Blinded by Jongin's intoxicating smiles, Lu Han accepted the invitation without even knowing what he was getting himself into.
Lu Han was never embarrassed of who he was, or his attraction towards other men. It always felt so natural. Nothing really appeared to be out of the norm for him until his ears began to pick up the hate speech society spilled. Words like abomination, diseased, and abnormal crawl under his skin and hide away at a sensitive spot in his mind. From time to time, he would look in the mirror and see these words reflected back at him.
At the party, Lu Han tried to blend in and seem like just one of the guys, not some loser with a crush. He searched for Jongin in the middle of the crowd, grabbing two red cups filled with vodka rocks. He found Jongin sitting by the pool with a girl at his side, all long brown hair, tiny waist and full red lips. That was when Lu Han began to cut his losses, kicking aside that desire that could never be.
He spent a few days inside his dorm, letting his mind wander and play around the what if's. He couldn't get Jonging out of his mind, the feeling had latched itself into his skin. Everywhere he turned, he would look for the boy, hungry for just a tiny glimpse of him. If he were lucky maybe they'd even talk again, and Lu Han would get another chance to memorize the sound of his voice.
The encounter happened when he had least expected it.
It was finals week, and the library was full with desperate faces trying to digest an entire semester's worth of material in one sitting. Lu Han was no different. He tried to memorize concepts of design theory that he had scribbled down on a notebook during one his lectures, but never touched again. Just when he's about to give up and throw it all in the hands of fate, a friendly smile greeted him from across his table.
"Having a tough time?"
Jongin pulled back a chair and made himself comfortable in front of Lu Han. The boy on the other side, however, was just a drop away from sheer panic. He had imagined thousands of different moments where they'd meet, and Lu Han would take Jongin's breath away with his wit. Never in these scenarios, Lu Han would be wearing sweatpants and a faded Manchester United shirt. He was a mess, and the boy of his dreams had his eyes directly on him. Maybe it was time to run.
"That's an understatement," Lu Han had answered back in a low whisper, shutting his notebook and beginning to collect his things.
"Must be hard, whatever it is that you study. Your face was all scrunched up. It wasn't pretty." The joke was innocent, but Lu Han took it really hard. He put his backpack onto his shoulders, and jumped to his feet.
"Believe me," Lu Han begun, crossing his arms awkwardly over his chest, and letting his long bangs fall over his eyes, "that's my face every day."
"Nah," Jongin argued, following Lu Han towards the exit. "You seemed pretty peaceful that day. I never saw you at the party. Did you get lucky?"
Lu Han snorted and shook his head. "I'm lame. I don't get lucky. I don't usually go to parties. And I don't understand design theory."
"Hey, I know I seem like a cool dude, but I came home alone too. Actually, I got into a fight with my ex. It wasn't very pleasant." Jongin played with the straps of his backpack, kicking a few idle pebbles in the ground once they reach the outside. "Maybe we should do a guys night. No girls. Just beer. Football. Call of Duty. What do you think?"
Every muscle in Lu Han's body said fuck no. This would go nowhere, and he'd end up getting hurt. Lu Han never did listen to his instincts, so he and Jongin ended up exchanging numbers. He had invited Lu Han to hang out at his place sometime.
Jongin was from a foreign country, and didn't really have many friends. The guys are one thing, he had said.
"They are cool when I wanna drink or play a little ball," he had confessed one day when Lu Han had agreed to help with him with his algebra homework. "But they aren't the best company for just–talking."
Some weird factor had led Jongin to believe that Lu Han was this kind of person, who'd be down to just kick back and discuss the meaning of life. Lacking both in friendships and excitement in his life, Lu Han took him up on it. The two of them would later become almost inseparable.
The weight of unrequited love had began to crack Lu Han's self-restrain. One afternoon, he had mindlessly reached out to wipe away a bit of sour cream from Jongin's chin. He was lucky that his new friend wasn't weirded out by it. In fact, he returned the favor, aggressively dabbing away some ketchup from Lu Han's upper lip with a napkin.
Touching Jongin had began to physically hurt, sending sharp pains through Lu Han's chest every time the boy would come near him. It didn't take long for him to collapse. It all happened one night when they were alone at Jongin's place just watching TV.
Lu Han sucked in his lower lip, chewing on it nervously before spilling out the truth. "I love you."
Jongin cocked his head to the side, confusion blurring his understanding. "Same here, dude. You're like my best friend."
Everything got out of control when Lu Han leaned forward, smacking his lips straight into Jongin's. "You don't understand. I love you."
The eyes of the boy sitting in front of him become veiled, and Lu Han couldn't read him anymore. A deafening silence crawled between them as if they were both waiting for the other to speak. No one does, and they chose to avert their gazes, turning back towards the television. Lu Han felt tears built in his eyes, but he bit his tongue and held them back. Whatever happened from now on, it wasn't Jongin's fault. He wouldn't want his friend to feel pressured or even accept the blame for Lu Han's unhappiness.
"How come you never told me?" Jongin asked, still a bit puzzled by everything. "You never said that you were–"
Lu Han brought his hands to his own face. "I was scared. Terrified. That you would hate me."
Jongin reached forward, grabbing both of Lu Han's hands and forcing him to look straight into his eyes. He could see them better now, flooded with kindness. "You're a dumbass. I'd never hate you over something like that. I'm sorry, though."
The warm touch of Jongin's hands on his arms, quieted the frenzy happening inside Lu Han's chest. He smiled weakly, blinking back his emotions so he could face the beautiful person in front of him without a fragment of hurt in his eyes. "Can I still be your friend?"
In a quick move, Jongin twisted Lu Han's wrist and a sharp pain ran up his arm. "If you keep saying shit like this I'm gonna hurt you. You're my friend. Nothing's gonna change that." He let go, turning his body forward again. "Now shut up, commercials are over."