lu han-centric, pg, one-shot, 2600 words
"It’s the very normal, banal truth of the world he inhabits, the one she stands outside perpetually like it’s a goldfish bowl and she’s just watching. Wondering how the goldfish survives on pet food and two laps of the bowl alone. Truth is, they don’t. That’s why they die."
Lu Han's ascent and descent through the eyes of another.
(aka: a very bad remix of feet of clay)
She wakes up to the weight of an arm pressed against her chest, bare and cold against the hotel blanket. They checked into it last night, his manager absent, the booking made in her name. It’s the difference between them—famous or not nobody was going to look twice at a name like hers, so common that half a dozen girls would look back if someone called out for her. His name is different. It’s a brand, and to some people a mantra. She remembers the people that sway according to the path he walks, metaphorically or otherwise, a hold over people whose names he will never know personally. She stares at the ceiling, his arm still tight on her chest, and wonders why.
“No,” she hears him say when he stirs awake, the arm closing in on her like she’s his lover. But—she refuses to think anymore. “Don’t go.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she replies quietly, still looking at the pristine white of the ceiling. Expensive suite in the Four Seasons, everyone watching the other way, his new manager pretending that nothing was wrong. That’s wrong.
She’s not leaving, but he is.
Sleeping with someone is not an exchange of souls. Jessica—not the Girls’ Generation member, she reminds people frequently—thinks that’s easy enough to understand. They’re sleeping with each other because it’s a good, easy fuck. Twenty-nine year olds have to realise that it’s okay if the person they’re fucking turns around to screw someone else. That deep, gnawing pain at the bottom of her chest may or may not exist. It doesn’t matter.
Lu Han tells her that yeah, he screwed a fan. But it’s normal, he doesn’t even bother to argue, just states like it’s the truth—and it is. It’s the very normal, banal truth of the world he inhabits, the one she stands outside perpetually like it’s a goldfish bowl and she’s just watching. Wondering how the goldfish survives on pet food and two laps of the bowl alone. Truth is, they don’t. That’s why they die. Jessica wonders if it’s unhappily so.
“Don’t stand near the windows,” he murmurs, hand against his eyes, blind voluntarily. She pulls at her bathing robe and wonders if they can see her from up here, naked underneath. It’s funny how she’s this close to the edge, and nobody seems to notice. “They’ll see you.”
“Really?” She wonders if they will, out of the telescope lenses they pay so much for, to capture the essence of this youth, profitable and marketable, bottled into flawless pictures to save for all time past. Maybe they will. She turns around and watches him watch her, his eyes tired, the lines underneath so obvious. He hates it, she thinks, he hates it. It’s pure hatred boiling beneath.
“Just,” he starts and stops, then starts again, “just, don’t.”
Then it subsides and she watches him crawl back into the hollow, thin shell of Lu Han, lover of China, and China alone.
Lu Han holds grudges. Like that one time she forgot to pick up a call, or that time she hung up before he did. It’s not like he’s controlling or unforgiving. He’s needy, Jessica thinks, desperate for a lifesaver. She watches as he flips the channels, jumping from one Wu Yifan face to another. He didn’t go to the wedding. Might as well—if she were him she wouldn’t have gone too. He watches TV for a while more before he turns to her, eyes unblinking. She stares at him, wondering if he’s shriveled inside. Like a leaf in autumn. Crush underfoot and it will break. Then he pulls at the hem of her blouse, upwards in the easy, accustomed way she is used to now, and then they fuck.
It’s not excessively crass but there isn’t another word to describe it. She lets him kiss her nape, leave marks wherever he wants, and when he’s spent she hears him breathe heavily into her ear, short breaths. Still steady, because he still dances. Just without a lot of enthusiasm.
“I’m sorry I fucked that girl,” he apologises lightly, still on top of her, “it was weird. She said she had surgery to look like Sehun. I felt like I was doing her a favour, bringing her fantasies to life.”
The silence is tepid.
“When do you have to go?” She can’t remember anymore.
Neither can he.
She wakes up, forgetting if she’s in the States or China or Korea, to her phone ringing. It’s so loud she thinks her mother may wake up next door. She doesn’t. He’s straight to the point—he’s in Beijing. His grandmother is dead. He needs her to be there, the warmth of her body pressing against his, but she can’t. The distance between Chicago and Beijing is too great. Even the desire for existential crisis sex can’t cross that sort of oceanic distance.
“I’m sorry,” she says, voice a hollow whisper. She remembers what he used to say about her, when they were housemates and sleepless, his fondness for her cooking, the way she’d carry herself. All of that, six feet under. Her heart rips in Chicago. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“I’ve always wondered why people say that,” he sounds frighteningly normal, “like it makes things better on their end.”
“It doesn’t.” She knows that. Words are devoid of meaning unless the speaker imbues them with any. He cannot possibly know what she’s devoting to her words now, seeping across the Atlantic, trying to leak into his broken body. There is a loud beep on his end, and she jumps.
It’s his cue to go back to Korea, and she sees the airport spread out in front of her eyes, people surging back and forth, not to his will, but maybe some of them are. Some of them will want him to remember them, carve their existence on the same raw spot that has just registered the death of his grandmother. But, he pauses, it’s all part of the job.
“Life goes on,” he says before he cuts the line.
But, she thinks, no longer for his grandmother.
He continues to vomit in her hotel room. Sometimes she thinks that she’s one of them, Jessica the stalker fan, following him if he asks, if he commands. The only difference is that they’ve known each other for many years, and they frequently engage in sex that have no use except to remind that Lu Han he’s still functioning. Alive, even. Jessica watches as he gags for a while more.
“I’ll get the doctor,” she decides, “I’ll leave the room, and you can take something that will make you stop throwing up.”
“No,” he struggles to get up, “no!”
The reason why he refuses she never gets to hear personally, but as she puts him to bed, his legs stretched out haphazardly, Jessica thinks it’s because he doesn’t want to. Doesn’t want to risk anyone knowing, doesn’t want to risk anyone finding out, doesn’t want to risk the fans doing what they do best—damage. He frowns, and she puts a pillow over his eyes. Lu Han is afraid of the dark, but he cannot sleep without it. His phone vibrates on the table nearby—she sees a name beginning with T, and figures it’s his bandmate. She deliberately does not learn their names, so that it doesn’t seem too like her being a fan fuck-buddy. Apparently they think she is. It’s not too far from the truth, except she’s not a fan. Lu Han will always be Lu Han to her, the one with scruffy black hair and the nose that he always found too bumpy. Now it’s perfect. Jessica hates it.
“Jessica,” he suddenly says, voice muffled.
“Yeah?” She leans in to listen. His hands are on the pillow over his eyes, wrists so thin she could break them if she wanted to. Autumn leaves.
“Don’t tell anyone.”
Here is the truth—nobody believes whatever they don’t want to. But she doesn’t tell him that.
It’s not really how she envisioned their reunion. Five years after her language programme stint at Yonsei she’s never thought of her old classmate again. At least that’s what she thinks, but when he turns up below her apartment block in Guangzhou, black jacket and cap pressed down low, she remembers. Sometimes it’s easy to pretend that things never happened so you won’t desire for something more to happen. Jessica knows that she wanted Lu Han to say no to that SM offer. There’s something about an advanced training system that slices worlds apart. She runs away before that happens.
They sit in her apartment in silence. She doesn’t even bother to ask how he found out her address, because these things don’t compute in her head. Lu Han looks at her, the face that graces the billboard near the metro station two blocks away, the face that looks the same but not quite, the face that isn’t Lu Han. She opens her mouth to say something but the words just don’t come.
“I thought of you,” he blurts out so quickly she struggles to understand, “I don’t remember anything from yesterday but I thought of you.”
It’s funny, how she picks up all those residual feelings and allows them to expand very quickly. Lu Han talks very fast about his movies (she’s never seen them), his shows (never seen those too), his albums (never listened to), and how he’s thought of her. How she’s just there, in the back of his head while his entire life whirls by in a blur and the only concise, real thing is her. The girl from his language programme that he hadn’t seen or thought of in four years, half-dissipated but now so clear it hurt his head, made him see purple spots.
“I don’t know why,” he sits very close to her now and she holds her breath, “I don’t.”
He sounds manic, like he’s on drugs. He probably is. Jessica’s been to college in the States—Adderall is not uncommon. He’s not thinking straight, not especially when he leans down to kiss her—they’ve never been this type of friends, they were the kind to talk dreams and ambitions and further studies—but she lets him. She lets him pull her shirt off and then they are looking at each other so closely she can see everything. Not a single pore. This isn’t the Lu Han she remembers, but what does it matter?
“I’m not a whore,” she says before she regains control of her tongue.
“It would be easier if you were.” He says almost unkindly, but as they fuck on her couch, she holds on to that thought.
Someone sends her an article on Facebook. It’s headlined: “Will Lu Han be the next to leave?”
Jessica stares at the heading for so long she wonders if she’s trying to erase all thoughts of him from her head. The picture in the article is of him in a suit, hand held upright in a greeting pose. He looks a bit like a plaster model. This would be a compliment in Korean, she dimly remembers. Then she scrolls through the rest of the article. It’s scathing musing on whether Lu Han would be the next one to go, the clever one to pick up on the flow, to bank on his effortless Chinese charm. The Lu Han she knows stutters when nervous.
It’s three days before she decides to call him. Try her luck. Despite everything his Chinese number is still safe in her contact list.
When someone in a thick Sichuanese accent answers, she hangs up.
Lu Han is a name that exists only in theory but not in reality.
Jessica forgets about him. Goes to school. Wonders if he could have been there with her too.
Repeats the process.
Lu Han is a name that no longer belongs to him alone, two words, two characters that are scribbled on notebooks, carved on name tags, painted on fan boards, uttered by mouths that do not belong to him alone.
Jessica wonders how that must feel.
I’m writing this email, and I don’t know if all of you will receive it since these email addresses are pretty old, to tell you guys that I’ve made it!
Please keep an eye out for my group. I don’t know when the actual debut date is, but it’s soon. I know this sounds incredible, but I swear I’m not lying. I miss you guys, and I wish I had you all around while I was in Korea.
Anyway, I hope I get replies soon! See you guys around. By the way, our Youtube channel is SMTOWN. I don’t know when my teaser will be out, but if you see me, don’t laugh. It’s kinda cool and dumb at the same time. Promise.
(PS: Jessica, I really hope you get this. I lost your number and you never replied my emails, so… if you see this, drop me an email?)
She reads the email three times, and clicks Delete.
She stops to let him catch up. He reaches her, panting as he leans over, hands on his knees. His hair is short. Must have cut it after they chose him, she decides. Her suitcase is heavy so she puts it aside and waits for him to catch his breath. He does, and looks up at her accusingly. She can’t say anything—she’s on the way to the airport to catch a plane to Hong Kong, then to Los Angeles, then to Chicago. She’s gone out of the way to avoid him but he’s here, with his new hair cut and accusing eyes.
“I have to go, Lu Han.” She lies. Her flight’s in ten hours. “I’m sorry.”
“Couldn’t you just have said goodbye?” He asks. The air is starting to get very cold. One year ago they met on a day that had the same temperature. Three hundred and sixty five days later she’s wishing that they never did. Lu Han prods her to answer, and so many words file through her head. The I love yous and don’t do its get quashed in the corner. Jessica has never been very good with hiding her feelings—they come out with overwhelming velocity, like now when she looks at his face and wants to scream no—so she takes the coward’s road out and runs away.
“I’m sorry,” she lies again. She isn’t.
“Jessica, I know how crazy you thought I was, but I really did it!” He says too happily, eyes lighting up.
It’s not because of her. It’ll never be because of her. The allure of the life of a star—one that he’s wanted all his life, demonstrated by the way they stayed up together and watched TVXQ croon and dance their way across Tokyo Dome—is right at his fingertips. She’s in front of him and it’s funny because he will never reach out for her. Her heart rips. It’s a tiny incision but she feels the blood drip. Ever heard of anyone dying from a paper cut?
“I know,” she says. Lies. “I’m so happy for you.”
“Yeah?” He says, reaching for her shoulder.
She steps back. As if distance allows for lying better. He looks at her, too happy to notice. What if he’s surrounded by lies in the future, tightening around him, grip too strong to break free of? She looks back at him, wondering.