Summary: Kris is sent on business to a remote town in Hunan. He meets Yixing, and maybe even likes Yixing. Yixing, though, doesn’t quite reciprocate Kris’s feelings that easily. Based loosely on 50 First Dates.
Kris doesn’t want to be in Hunan.
He knows he shouldn’t have an opinion on this matter—it’s not like protesting will do anything, not when it’s one of his father’s demands—but the moment Kris steps out of the airport into the freezing cold air and sees the miserably grey sky, he has to fight the urge to turn around and catch the first plane back to Vancouver.
The train to the Hunan branch of the company takes three hours. Kris sleeps through most of it. A boy greets him at the reception, introducing himself as Huang Zitao.
“I’ll be your personal assistant here,” Zitao says with a hesitant smile. Kris tries to smile back as amicably as he can, but probably fails, looking at the way Zitao falters. Zitao stops in front of a room and motions for Kris to go through the door. “This is your office. We’re still in the middle of renovations, so everything’s a bit messy. I hope it’s okay.”
The office is dismal. Apart from the flickering lights, it’s only about a tenth the size of the one Kris had back at the Vancouver branch. The window’s sealed up with a piece of badly hammered wood so the sunlight’s blocked off, and the peeling wallpaper is a faded yellow hue. There’s no furniture apart from a single desk, a chair, and a sofa covered in plastic, all looking like they belonged to the 1940s.
“It’s lovely,” Kris says unconvincingly. He wonders how he’ll be able to work here—and what he’ll even be doing here. His father hadn’t exactly been clear about the finer details when he’d sent Kris away to oversee “that expansion project in Hunan”.
“Ah!” Zitao exclaims, clasping his hands together. “Paperwork! Sorry, I forgot, there were some documents sent through from the Vancouver office. Make yourself comfortable, sir, and I’ll fetch them.” He smiles and bows hastily, disappearing before Kris can tell him that any paperwork from the Vancouver office was probably just Jongdae trying to make his life hard.
A draught blows through the crack in the wooden slat, and the door slams shut. Pieces of plaster dust fall from the ceiling cracks. Kris watches as the flakes float and settle on the carpet, then slumps down into his seat, running his hands through his hair.
Hunan is going to be a blast.
* * *
When Zitao’s still not back ten minutes later, Kris helps himself out of the office and walks down the main road to do a bit of exploring. It’s not like the company would have anything important for him on his first day anyway.
There are only a handful of shops on the street. It’s a strange place to expand, especially for such a large reconstruction company like his father’s, but Kris knows better than to question his father’s choices. His father has an impeccable business—and business only—mind.
Kris nods back in greeting, shutting the café door behind him. The warm air hits him in a blast, a welcome change from the cold outside. A delicate-looking boy in a blue apron behind the counter beams at him. Kris stares at the boy’s name-tag for a while, adjusting to Chinese characters that he hasn’t seen in years. 鹿晗. Lu Han.
“Short black, please,” Kris says. “No sugar.”
“Coming right up.” Kris examines the café as he waits. It’s cosy, with a few wall decorations, and it’s completely empty except for him and an old lady sitting in the corner reading a book. It’s also much nicer than his new office. Kris thinks he might relocate here to do his work instead, if it’s always this peaceful.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” Kris blinks. Lu Han looks up at him expectantly. “You’re not a local.”
“Oh,” Kris says. “No, I’m not—I’m here on business.”
“Let me guess,” Lu Han says, wiping the coffee cup, “you’re from that huge construction company that set up two streets down? The one buying all the land around here?”
Kris nods. “Yeah. I just started a new job there. I’ll be living here for a while. How did you know?”
Lu Han gives a knowing smile. “You do sound a bit foreign. But no, this is a pretty small town, and we’re the only café in this area. Most people know me, and I know most people.”
Kris laughs. It sure was different around here. If Lu Han was working at a café anywhere in Vancouver’s CBD, there’s no way he’d be able to recognise all the customers who came through his door.
“Is it always this quiet around here?” Kris asks, taking the coffee from Lu Han and putting his credit card down. The streets had been empty too. “There’s barely anyone around.”
“That’s the way it is here,” Lu Han says, and Kris senses a hint of bitterness. “It’s nice to live quietly. If I wanted a busy life, I’d be in Beijing. Ah—sorry, we don’t accept credit here. Do you have cash?”
Ah. Right. Kris takes his card back, feeling stupid. He wasn’t in the metropolis anymore. He’d have to get used to the change in pace here. He feels his pockets and pulls out a twenty-yuan bill. “This enough?”
“Lu Han! There you are!”
Kris turns as a boy hurtles through the entrance and up to the counter, rummaging around in a brown backpack and pulling out a neatly wrapped package. “Happy birthday!” The boy thrusts the present out, a little too enthusiastically. It drops out of his hand onto the floor, and Kris picks it up, hiding a smile as the boy mumbles an apology, scratching the back of his ear.
“It’s your birthday?” Kris asks Lu Han. Lu Han begins to shake his head, then looks at the boy and nods. Kris places the present on the counter. “Happy birthday, then.”
“Thanks,” Lu Han says, taking the present. “You didn’t have to, Yixing.”
Yixing grins happily. “How could I not? And you should’ve told me you’d be at the café,” Yixing admonishes. “You weren’t in bed when I woke up, and I couldn’t find my phone so I couldn’t even call you to ask you where you were.”
Kris coughs into his coffee. In bed?
“I left a note for you on the door!” Lu Han protests.
Kris looks between them, feeling like an intruder. “Wait, are you two…?” he says, pointing between them. Yixing cocks his head. “Like…together?”
Yixing makes an ‘O’ with his mouth and laughs. “No! Not like that. No, Lu Han—he’s my brother. Step-brother.” With that, he steps backwards and looks Kris up and down, blinking. “Hey, are you new here? I haven’t seen you around before. What’s your name?”
“Hey, Xingtuo, stop bothering the customer,” Lu Han says, putting a hand on Yixing’s arm. He hands Kris back his change. “Here’s your change, sir. Sorry about the bother.”
“It’s no bother,” Kris says quickly. In any case, if he’s going to be here for a while, then he might as well get to know the locals, and Here is as good a place to start as any. Lu Han and Yixing seem nice enough. Kris is pretty sure he’s meant to collect some sort of information about the local community for some kind of report anyway. “My name’s Kris. I’m from Canada.”
“Canada,” Yixing says, awe in his voice. “I’ve never been there. I’ve never been overseas.” He walks behind the counter and loops an arm around Lu Han’s neck. “But hey, at least we’re heading up to Beijing to see Lu Han’s dad later on, aren’t we, Lulu?”
“Oh, actually…” Lu Han says, fiddling with a napkin. “Um, dad called this morning. He says he’s busy with work. I think we should call it off. I mean, he won’t even have time for us if we go…sorry.”
Yixing looks crestfallen. “But it’s your birthday! You’ve been wanting to visit him for a whole year.”
Lu Han smiles. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll visit him some other time. Hey, don’t be like this; we’ll do something together after Minseok gets here and takes over. Train it up to Changsha and go shopping or something.”
“Fine then,” Yixing says, pouting. He puts down his backpack. “I’ll wait for you here, I guess.”
“Hey.” Yixing turns to face Kris, and he raises an arm awkwardly, before putting it down. “Hey, that means you’re not busy right?”
“Well…” Yixing smiles, eyes twinkling, leaning on the counter. “I may or may not be.” His grin spreads. Kris smiles back hesitantly.
“Uh, I’m meant to get information about this place from the locals. For work, you know,” Kris adds. Yixing nods, clearly amused, and Kris feels really, really stupid. “Well, do you mind telling me a bit about this town—yourself—while you wait? You know, an introduction.”
“It’s okay, Yixing,” Lu Han says quickly. “I can do that. You can sit down and do your composition task or something.”
Yixing shakes his head. “How often are we going to have tall, handsome people from Canada visit this café?” He slides into a booth, then looks up at Kris, grinning a beautiful, dimpled grin. Kris stares, slightly mesmerised. “So, what do you want to know?”
* * *
Yixing is easy to talk to. Kris sits at the table, listening to Yixing explain how they didn’t have visitors very often, and how it was so exciting to have someone from overseas coming here, and if Kris could teach him some English. Kris declines with a laugh, saying that maybe he could do it next time.
“You’re a student, right? What do you study?” Kris asks, curious. Yixing grins and taps his fingers on the table, as if playing a piano.
“I study music composition,” Yixing explains. “I’ve always liked to sing and write songs. Actually, I should be composing right now—I’ve got to hand in a piece to my tutor next week. But I think you’re more interesting than that,” he says with a chuckle
“Oh?” Kris leans forwards, interested. “Sing me something you wrote.”
“Since you so kindly declined to teach me English,” Yixing says teasingly, “maybe next time.”
Kris groans, burying his face in his hands, and Yixing cackles. “But enough about me, what do you do?”
“I, um,” Kris says, hesitating. He’s not sure what he should say. He's learnt from past experience that people only had two reactions to the fact that he was the son of a multimillionaire—despise or awe—and in both cases, they’d stop talking to him in the same way. Kris doesn't want to kill his chances here. “I work in an office. I read things. Administration work, you know. Boring and repetitive.” It's only half a lie.
“More exciting than me. You get to travel,” Yixing says with a grin. “I want to travel too. It’s too bad about Lu Han’s dad today…” Yixing pouts, and Kris laughs at his expression. Yixing claps his hands together suddenly. “Oh, but we’ll still be going up to Beijing this year! Lu Han’s in a dance crew. They qualified for the semi-finals of a competition, and they’re held up in Beijing. Aren’t you excited, Lulu?”
Lu Han sighs. He wipes the spout of the milk frother. “Yeah, I guess.”
Kris laughs as Yixing demonstrates an arm wave, rambling on about Lu Han’s crew enthusiastically. Time that usually drags for hours in the office passes in a heartbeat in the café just talking with Yixing. Yixing’s cute, with a childish innocence that Kris has missed. The people he’s usually around all day—his father, Jongdae—are both overbearing and, in Jongdae’s case, hound him to no end, so it’s a very nice change to just listen to Yixing’s laughter.
Kris doesn’t notice that two hours has passed until he glances at his watch and does a double take.
“Shit,” he mutters, as the door bursts open and a flustered looking Zitao runs through the entrance.
“Hey, Taozi,” Lu Han says, giving a wave. Zitao mutters a greeting back and scans the café. Kris tries to hide in the corner of the booth, but Zitao sees him and rushes up to the table.
“Thank god,” Zitao pants. “I couldn’t find you in the office and—please don’t run off like that, sir.”
Kris smiles wryly. If it were Jongdae, Kris would be dead and fried to a burnt piece of crispy toast—but thankfully for him, Zitao seems to have a bit of a weak backbone.
“Sir?” Yixing tilts his head to the side. “Hey, what are you, a manager? And Huang Zitao, since when did you learn manners?”
“Since you taught me,” Zitao mutters. He turns to Kris. “Sir, please, the chairman makes surprise spot-checks by phone. We need to get back before a call comes through and no one’s there.”
“You two better go then," Lu Han says, a little too eagerly. "I don't want Zitao here—or you—getting fired or anything."
I can’t get fired, Kris thinks wryly, I’m the chairman’s son, but of course he doesn’t say anything. He puts his jacket on. “You’re right, I should go. Sorry, Yixing, will you be here again tomorrow?”
“Sure.” Yixing smiles, the tip of his tongue held between his teeth, a dimple forming on his right cheek. “And if you want me to take you around the local markets I was talking about, I’d be more than happy to. Because you don't really sound like you know where things are yet," he finishes, chuckling.
Zitao motions to the door urgently. Kris rolls his eyes and gives a little salute. “Sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Yixing grins. “It’s a date.”
Lu Han's eyes burn holes in Kris's back.
* * *
"So," Henry says, "how was your first day back in the motherland, without me?"
Kris groans as he flops onto his bed. He holds the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he dries his hair. "Dull," he says. He throws his towel to the side and lies down. “It’s freezing. My office is a hole. An actual hole.”
“Cheer up, dude,” Henry says, chuckling. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as you're making it out to be.”
“Says the one on a three-month cruise.”
Henry groans. "Hey, hey, I have to babysit here. Little cousins can be a pain in the ass, okay? And didn’t you want to get out of the country anyway, after Chanyeol?”
Kris rolls over to his stomach, resting his chin on his hand. "I thought I told you not to talk about him."
"Come on, dude. It wasn't like you guys fought and broke up or anything, right?”
"Yeah, but my dad—"
“—screw that, your dad's not there to monitor your every move now.”
"He sent me to the middle of nowhere for a reason, Henry." Kris sighs. "He wants me to focus on work. Straighten me up. Literally."
Honestly, his father's intentions had been a bit of a giveaway. His father was the one supposed to be the one here, sorting out the development for the company’s Hunan branch, but after he'd found out that Kris had something going on with Chanyeol, he’d suddenly decided that it would be a better idea for his son to go in his place instead, to this remote town in the middle of nowhere. “Get used to dealing with different people, because you’ll be taking over my position when I retire,” his father had said, and it had only been a half-excuse, because Kris knows that his father actually does want him to take over in the future. Chanyeol had just sped things up.
“If he wanted you to straighten you up, he should’ve just sent you to a chiropractor.” Kris snorts. "Anyway, are you still talking with Chanyeol, or…?"
“More like he’s not talking to me. Not since my father threatened to fire him and make sure that he never sets foot in the reconstructing industry again," Kris says drily. "One of the upsides of being the son of the chairman of the company, yeah?"
“Well then,” Henry says. There’s a long pause. “Hm. Maybe you can find someone over there. I’m sure there’s someone for you…in the middle of nowhere…”
“Maybe I can. Maybe I have,” Kris mutters, thinking of a certain dimple-smiled boy. “Anyway. Doesn’t matter. I’ll just live here quietly, until he decides I’ve ‘learnt enough’ to let me go back to Vancouver.”
"It’ll work out. Hey, sorry, man, my cousin just broke out the bag of marbles, I gotta go make sure she doesn't choke on them or something. Hang in there, dude!"
And the line goes dead.
Kris puts an arm over his eyes, throwing the phone aside. On one hand, there’s familiarity back in Vancouver, but on the other hand, Hunan could be a nice change of pace. Henry’s right. His father’s not here to monitor his every move now. Plus, Kris thinks, smiling as Yixing's face flashes in front of his eyes, not everything here was completely unbearable.
Maybe he'd be able to survive here for a while longer.
* * *
Zitao dumps a load of paperwork on Kris's desk the next morning with an apologetic face, saying that he'd received orders from Jongdae to make sure Kris didn’t slack off without him there. Kris reminds himself to sneak chilli into all of Jongdae's food the moment he gets back to Vancouver. He finishes stamping and signing the pile in record time, then grabs his coat and a set of contractual documents on his desk and dashes out of the office.
“I'm going to the café,” he says, as Zitao starts to protest. “No whining, I've finished all the paperwork you gave me this morning. And find a heater or something, please; the office is too damn cold.”
Yixing's not there when Kris opens the door and walks into the café. He nods a greeting to Lu Han, whose smile drops slightly when he looks up from the counter.
“I just thought I'd tell you, Yixing won't be here today,” Lu Han says, handing Kris his coffee—black, no sugar. “Sorry, I think it might be a better idea to just go back to the office.”
“It’s okay,” Kris says, waving the pile of documents in front of Lu Han’s face. “I brought my work here. This place is nicer than the office anyway.” Lu Han sighs in resignation as Kris sits in the booth.
Kris is halfway through the pages when the café door opens and Yixing bursts in.
“Hey!” Kris grins, waving to Yixing. “Hey, you’re here!”
Yixing either doesn’t see or doesn’t care, because he walks right past Kris and up to Lu Han.
“Happy birthday!” Yixing swings his brown bag onto the counter and pulls out a present—wrapped exactly the same way as yesterday's. He slides it across the counter to Lu Han, who smiles brightly, perhaps a little too much so. Kris raises his eyebrow.
“Yixing?” Kris says slowly. Lu Han casts a nervous glance at Kris. Yixing turns and faces Kris, pointing to himself questioningly. “Um, wasn’t it Lu Han's birthday yesterday? Why are you giving him another present today?”
“Huh?” Yixing says. Kris gestures to the present. Yixing looks Kris up and down and scratches the back of his ear. “Wait, but…sorry, who are—Lu Han, do you know him?”
Kris clenches his jaw, feeling a strange sensation creep upon him. Sure, they’d only met yesterday, but Kris doesn’t think that he’d been that disinteresting, to have made no impression on Yixing at all, not after they’d talked for so long. They’d even agreed to meet here today.
Lu Han clears his throat. “Yeah, sorry, Yixing, this is my friend—”
“—we were talking here yesterday,” Kris interrupts, perplexed. “For two hours?”
Yixing’s polite smile morphs into a slight frown. “Do you have the wrong person? I wasn’t here yesterday. I was watching Lu Han’s crew practise and then I was at home packing our bags for today’s trip, right, Lulu?”
“Right,” Lu Han says weakly. “Right, yeah, hey, Kris, can we—”
“—but you were here,” Kris blurts out. He feels a stabbing jolt in his chest. Something was really strange. “I—you walked in and you said happy birthday to him and then we talked and you said that you’d show me around today…don’t you remember?”
“Excuse me.” Lu Han walks out from behind the counter and grabs Kris by the arm. Yixing’s still standing there, looking positively lost. “Yixing, stay here for a moment, don’t move—Kris, can we have a chat?”
* * *
Kris leaves the café in a state of shock. He goes back to his office, closing the door in Zitao’s face when Zitao tries to shove another pile of papers at him, and falls into his seat. Lu Han’s words ricochet around in his head in fragments, tumbling over each other.
Lu Han’s birthday. Beijing. Train derailment. Life support. Permanent brain damage.
Kris buries his head in his hands.
“He thinks every day is April 20th of last year. He wakes up, and it’s April 20th, 2011.”
“Do you tell him about this? That he has amnesia?” Lu Han had shaken his head. “So you mean he never finds out?”
“What’s the point? If we tell him, it’ll just make him upset. And he won’t even remember it the next morning, and we have to tell him again, and deal with it all over again.” Lu Han had lowered his voice, looking tired. “It’s routine already. He thinks he loses his phone every morning. He comes here looking for me, and I have to make some kind of excuse as to why we can’t go up to Beijing to see my dad. I replace his music book every day with a new one. I reset all the clocks in the house after he goes to sleep, back a day. I rewrap my present and put it back in his hiding spot. God, I even wash the clothes he’s wearing and put them back where they are so nothing’s strange or out of place.”
“But,” Kris's head had spun. “Why? Can’t you just tell him?”
Lu Han had sighed. “Three hours.”
“That’s how long he cried. He cried for three hours the first time he found out, saying how sorry he was to be a burden to everyone. I—don’t think I can see him like that again.”
Kris had been unable to respond.
“Look, I know it’s a lot to take in, but if you understand our situation, could you please…stay away from Yixing? It would make our lives a whole lot easier,” and with that, Lu Han had sent Kris on his way.
Kris rubs his face. So Yixing, this happy, brightly smiling boy that he’d met yesterday, was completely unable to remember him. Unable to remember anyone, anything, that happened after the day of the accident. Unable to live like a normal person.
Unable to move on, stuck on repeat.
Every single day.
* * *
Kris immerses himself in work. His father calls, asking him how he’s liking it in Hunan, and he answers dutifully, saying all the things that he knows his father wants to hear. He tries to put Yixing out of his mind, but it’s no use, because every spare moment that Zitao isn’t loading him with paperwork, Lu Han’s words come back to him. The more he thinks about the situation, the more he can’t believe it.
Three days later, Kris finds himself back at the café.
“You—” Lu Han says, when Kris steps in. Kris puts his hands up in front of him defensively.
“I won’t say anything. Promise. I just…” Kris grits his teeth. “I want to confirm it.”
Yixing comes in at ten. Kris holds his breath as Yixing walks up to the counter, hoping for it all to be a joke—but there it is, that excited “happy birthday”, the neatly wrapped blue present on the counter, and Lu Han making exactly the same excuses about not going up to Beijing because his dad was busy.
“Too bad,” Yixing says. “I guess I’ll just wait until Minseok comes. But I’m treating you today!”
Yixing sits at the booth diagonally opposite Kris, biting on his lower lip as he pulls out a notebook from his backpack and starts doodling, tapping a pencil on the table in varying rhythms. Kris watches silently as Yixing scrawls, shakes his head, rips out a page and scrunches it up, then starts humming and annotating. From the looks of it, he’s probably working on something for his composition class.
The composition class that had ended a year ago.
“He can’t remember anything at all. Where he’s gone, who he’s met, what he’s done. Nothing. It’s gone from his brain. A clean slate each day.”
Yixing hums some more and scribbles down more notes. Kris grits his teeth. It’s almost heartbreaking to see Yixing hard at work like this, for something that would be gone from his memory the next day, forgotten, as if it had never existed.
“It’s beautiful,” Kris says without thinking. He must be pretty loud, because Yixing jumps from where he’s sitting and turns to face Kris. Lu Han frowns at Kris. Kris curses himself. “Sorry, I—I couldn’t help but listen. You have a nice voice. What you’re singing, it’s nice. I like it.”
Yixing grins. “Thanks. It’s for my music composition class, so…” He tilts his head to the side. “Hey, I don’t think we’ve met before. Are you new here?”
Right. Of course. Kris smiles sadly.
“Yeah. My name’s Kris. I’m from Canada.”
* * *
Kris thinks. And thinks. And thinks some more. And then, it gets to the point where Kris doesn't know what to think any longer, so he does what he always does when he’s unsure—call Henry.
“So there’s this boy,” Kris starts slowly. Henry crows over the line. Kris groans. “No, shut up, listen.”
“I am listening,” Henry says. Kris can almost hear his shit-eating grin. “Go on, so there’s a boy?”
“And he’s nice. Really nice. And easy to talk to.”
“But he can’t remember me.”
Henry scoffs. “You probably stood there like a rock being charmingly disinteresting. Go introduce yourself again.”
“No, he won’t ever be able to remember me.” Kris lets out a breath, falling back onto his bed. “He has amnesia. Remembers everything before a certain date, but then forgets everything that happens during the day. It’s like he gets reset to zero.”
“That’s…kind of crazy. But awesome.”
“Henry. He has brain damage.”
“Shh, I was joking.” Henry clicks his tongue. “Hm. You’ll be back in Vancouver soon, won’t you?”
“Well, yeah, I don’t know when, but…”
“And you don’t want obligations?”
Kris frowns. “Not really.”
“Then isn’t this kind of perfect for you? This Yixing guy—he can’t remember anything, right? So you can’t fuck things up. No strings!”
Kris bites his lower lip. Henry has a point. Sure, Yixing wouldn’t be able to remember him, but that also meant that he couldn’t screw things up—not like he’d screwed things up with Chanyeol, lacking the backbone to protest against his father when he’d cut things off.
“Is it right though? To do this. I mean, it seems kind of irresponsible to just…”
“What’s the harm? Hey, look at it this way. Even if something happens, he won’t remember the next day.”
Kris's heart thuds. Something selfish stirs in him. With Yixing, he has a new chance every day to get things right.
“I’m just saying, it couldn’t hurt to try.”
* * *
Kris zips into the office in the morning and takes all his work to the café, much to Zitao’s chagrin. He shows up at the café with a handful of papers, sitting in the booth he’d sat at the first time he talked to Yixing. Lu Han looks at him warily, but doesn’t say anything, just makes him a short black and lets him be.
Yixing turns up at around ten, with his usual chirpy “happy birthday” and that neatly packaged present. Kris pushes all his papers into a little pile. He walks up to Yixing.
“Hi, I’m Kris, and I’m from Canada. Are you free right now?”
Kris finds out little things every day. Yixing likes David Tao songs and cappuccinos and days where the weather isn’t too hot and isn’t too cold. He likes the colour blue. He has a massive sweet tooth. He likes doodling on napkins when he’s bored.
“What’s that supposed to be?” Yixing asks when Kris tries to draw something on Yixing’s napkin. “A turtle? Extinct dinosaur?”
“No it’s a…” Kris scratches the back of his head. Yixing grins, eyes curving into crescents, and Kris feels a strange elation bubbling inside him. Yixing was beautiful. “A crocodile. Never mind.”
“You suck at drawing.”
“Hey, I think this is pretty decent!”
Yixing snorts. “But actually, I’ve never seen a real crocodile. I’m going to go to Australia one day and catch one. Can I keep this?”
Kris pushes the napkin over to him, ignoring the nagging thought at the back of his mind telling him that Yixing would find it tucked away in the depths of his bag the next day, with no memory of where he’d gotten it from.
What Kris hates most is leaving. He’s tempted to be defiant, just ignore Zitao’s calls and take Yixing away somewhere, break his monotonous routine—but then he sees Lu Han’s hawk-eyed gaze, thinks of the effort Lu Han makes to preserve Yixing’s happiness, and he thinks that this is enough.
“Aw, do you have to go?” Yixing asks, when the clock hits one and Kris has amassed thirty missed calls from Zitao. “Fine then. I guess I’ll see you here tomorrow morning. And I’ll bring those bezel nuts that I was talking about! You have to try them. They’re a specialty here.”
“Yeah,” Kris says. “Yeah, I’ll try them. Tomorrow.”
“Promise?” Kris nods. Yixing grins devilishly. “They’re delicious. You can’t forget, okay?”
As Kris leaves, the three unsaid words of his reply play in his head.
“I won’t forget—but you will.”
* * *
“You’re a local here, right?”
Zitao dumps some contracts onto Kris's desk. Kris pushes them away. “Hey, it’s lunch break. Stop giving me these papers. That means you’ve known Yixing for a long time.”
“Ten years. Sir, the Vancouver office says that they need all these confirmed by today. Please sign them.”
“Ten years? Did you go to the same high school?”
“There’s only one high school here. Why do you want to know?” Zitao sounds a little dismayed. “Why are you so interested?”
Kris shrugs nonchalantly. “I’ve never met anyone with amnesia. I’m allowed to be curious.”
“I don’t think I should be telling you anything, though,” Zitao says, hesitant. “Sorry, Lu Han made everyone promise—”
“—hey, you’re my assistant,” Kris says, raising an eyebrow at the stack of papers in front of him. “If you’re going to dump me all this useless stuff, then you could at least appease me before I make you go on early morning coffee runs. Now spill.”
“—I’ll put in a good word for you to HQ.”
Zitao sighs. “Okay,” he says, putting down the last of the paper. He plonks himself down on the sofa, crossing his legs. “Zhang Yixing. He was in the year above me during high school. His parents divorced, and then his dad remarried Lu Han’s mum and Lu Han transferred here about six years ago. Everyone liked Yixing. He could sing and play guitar and piano and he was just…talented. He graduated and went to study music, and we were all sure that he was going to make it.” Zitao bites his lip. “And then there was the accident.”
“The train crash.”
“Yeah.” Zitao wrings his hands. “It’s strange. Lu Han only had minor injuries, but Yixing was in a coma for three months. They didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. We all thought he was going to die, but then he got up and he was fine—minus his memory.”
“A clean slate every day,” Kris murmurs. He leans forward, resting his chin in his hand. “Doesn’t he ever notice? That Lu Han’s faking everything? Recreating his entire day?”
Zitao nods. “He’s found out before.”
“I only remember two times. The first time I was helping out at my grandma’s store, and Yixing suddenly charged up and grabbed a newspaper from the pile, looked at the date, then threw it away and picked up another one, and another, and just kept going through them. Lu Han came in and took him away. The second time was after I got a job here and I had to go with this guy to get signatures from locals for development, and Yixing saw the date on the form. It’s probably happened more. Lu Han doesn’t like to talk about it.”
“Yeah.” Something churns uncomfortably in Kris's stomach. “Yeah, I expect it wouldn’t be a great experience.”
“It’s a pity.” Zitao clasps his hands together. “I really thought Yixing would make it out of this place, but I guess one unfortunate accident can change your life.” A silence. “He was kind of like the older brother I never had. I had a rough time a couple of years ago. Actually, he’s the reason I was able to sort myself out and finish school and get a job here.” Zitao smiles sadly. “I punched him in the face once. But he forgave me.”
“Nice guy,” Kris remarks.
Zitao nods. “Yixing’s…he’s…he’s the kind of person who loves unconditionally. No matter if you make mistakes, and no matter what kind of person you are.”
Kris nods slowly. He couldn’t begin to imagine what kind of pressure it must be on Lu Han, to live his life and make sure everything went right for Yixing as well. But, he thinks, remembering Yixing’s bright smile, there’s definitely something about Yixing that makes it all worthwhile.
“Anyway.” Zitao springs up out of his seat and walks over to Kris, holding a pen out. “Please, sir, I need these documents signed.”
* * *
It becomes routine. Kris wakes up, heads to the office and grabs a stack of documents, then heads down to the café so he’s there when Yixing comes through the doors every morning.
It’s different every day.
Most days, Yixing’s talkative and amicable and laughs at Kris's lame jokes, ending off with a promise to meet tomorrow. Some days, Kris loses track of time, and they talk and talk until it’s afternoon and Lu Han takes Yixing away to celebrate Lu Han’s ‘birthday’. There are also days where Yixing’s so engrossed in composing that Kris doesn’t have the heart to interrupt him with introductions, instead, just reviews his work and sneaks glances every so often at Yixing.
Then, there are days where Kris slips up.
He can’t help it. Every day, Yixing tells him new things, but the line between what’s been said today and yesterday and the day before that blurs, and Kris just gets confused. They’re talking about their childhoods this particular day, when Kris teases Yixing about his embarrassingly large collection of child videos unthinkingly, and Yixing’s laughter fades.
“How do you know about that?” Yixing asks, panicked. Shit, Kris thinks. “I didn’t…say anything about that. I’ve only met you today, right? How do you know?”
Something snaps in Kris. It’s been almost a month, and they haven’t progressed past the stage of introduction and polite chatter. He’s kind of tired of lying everyday, playing nonchalant, and he’s screwed up enough today.
“Actually,” Kris says quietly. “I know a lot about you. You study music. You like to sing Chinese opera. You once kissed a boy in middle school and they punched you in the nose. And I kind of really like you.”
Yixing blanches. He shoves his music book into his backpack and speeds out of the café, and Lu Han gives Kris a poisonous glare before following Yixing.
Kris sits there, realising with a sinking feeling that he’s gone too far this time.
Lu Han returns—without Yixing.
“Let’s talk,” Lu Han says softly.
“Is he okay? Sorry.”
“Apart from the fact that he thinks he has a stalker,” Lu Han says, “yeah. He hasn’t figured out yet, thank god.”
“Oh.” Kris runs his hand through his hair. “Oh, that’s good then. He’ll forget tomorrow.”
Lu Han fixes him with a gaze. “So that makes it okay to creep him out like this?”
“No,” Kris protests. “I mean, I didn’t mean to creep him out. I was just talking to him.”
“Coming to the café every day, flirting with him, and then leaving. It’s all just a game to you, isn’t it?” Lu Han sighs, tugging on the strings of his apron. “Toy around with him for one day, no obligations, and leave whenever you want. Is that it?”
Kris grits his teeth. Lu Han’s words hit him—that had been his initial intention. His stomach churns. It’s a pretty low move of him. “No, no, it’s not—”
“—then tell me, what’s in it for you? What do you get out of this? What can you do for Yixing?”
Kris searches in his head for an answer. His brain is a blank panic.
“I’m going to ask you once more. What can you do—”
“—I just,” Kris interrupts, frustrated. He sighs. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“I don’t want him to be hurt any more than he has been,” Lu Han says. Kris nods, defeated. Lu Han sighs. “So until you find an answer, don’t come back.”
* * *
Kris looks for an answer. He looks for a week, listless and half-assing his work. Prospective investors come from overseas to examine the building. Kris knows he’s supposed to welcome them, because they were ‘important people’, but he can’t find the energy to.
Kris finds his answer unexpectedly in a phone call.
“I heard they weren’t pleased with your attitude,” his father says. “This is unacceptable. Do you know why I sent you to Hunan in my place?”
To get me away from Chanyeol. “To learn how to deal with people. For experience.”
“And can you gain experience if you don’t even turn up to your office half the time? Or bother to greet people properly?”
As Kris listens to his father’s voice on the line lecturing him on work ethics and working for the sake of the company and his future, something dawns on Kris.
All his life, he’s only worked for one thing: his father’s approval. His father’s love. The only thing is that his father was scarce with his affection. His love was conditional. How Kris was treated always depended on how good his grades were or how well he did in the company. “I’ll love you, but only if you become a son who can make me proud.”
But now Kris thinks about it, he’s not sure that it’s enough.
Kris's mind drifts to Yixing. Yixing was someone away from that world, the world of corporate treachery and agendas. “I don’t know much,” Kris remembers Yixing saying, “but I think we all need some there for us who accepts us no matter what. It’s amazing you’re here on your own, I mean, I don’t think I could go anywhere without Lu Han.”
Even with Chanyeol, it hadn’t been unconditional. Kris was okay with turning a blind eye to it, but he knows deep down that Chanyeol had been using him for his power and money. He realised, when Chanyeol had so suddenly, so easily broken off contact with his father’s threats, that he didn’t actually mean that much.
It’s different with Yixing. Kris doesn’t know if he’s reaching here, but from the way that Yixing reacts to him, Yixing probably likes him too. He can make Yixing laugh. He can make Yixing happy. Unconditionally.
It’s small, but this is what he can do.
“Kris. Are you listening?”
“Sorry,” Kris mutters into the phone. “Sorry, dad. Go on.”
* * *
Kris paces outside the café. Lu Han shows up half an hour later to open up, and he’s clearly surprised to see Kris waiting there for him so early.
“I have an answer for you,” Kris says.
“I was hoping you would.”
Kris closes his eyes. He’s done some thinking. “You’re right. I was thinking of it as a game before, and just using him as a distraction from work. From certain people. And I’m sorry about that. But that’s not quite it anymore.”
“His smile. Just—when he smiles, it feels like I’ve done something right, even if he doesn’t remember who I am. I like making him smile, and I like it when he smiles. It’s weird, right?”
Lu Han laughs quietly. “No. He has that effect on people. I didn’t want to come down to Hunan initially, you know, after my mum remarried his dad—but I don’t think I could leave now, not when he needs me. It’s so difficult to see him sad, when he’s the one who pulled me through a tough time.”
Kris falls silent. The look in Lu Han’s eyes had changed completely while talking about Yixing. “You really care for him.”
“Which is why I don’t want him to get hurt.” Lu Han looks down. “I’m sorry, what I said to you last week—that was harsh. It’s just that he’s been hurt before. People have turned up in his life, and left at the first sign of trouble, and it’s…difficult for me to sit through. You understand, right?”
“Yeah,” Kris says. “Yeah, you have every reason to do that—I mean, at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to watch over him every single day. I’m just a passerby.”
“Maybe not.” Lu Han pulls out a bunch of crumpled papers from his pocket. “I realised something yesterday. I was going to tell you if you ever came back—and you did, so here it is. Yixing—he only finishes composing that song on days he meets you.”
Kris furrows his eyebrows. “What song?”
“You’ve seen him writing here at the café before. His composition. That’s what he usually does, after I tell him that we can’t head up to Beijing—at least, until you started taking up his time. I have to rip out the pages so he doesn’t open his book in the morning and see music that he’s never seen before.” Lu Han waves a sheet in front of Kris's face. “Here. Look.”
Kris takes the sheet from Lu Han. “你的世界,” it reads. “Into Your World”. Kris skims the page, snippets of English lyrics jumping out at him.
“Go to the end. Look at the bottom.”
Kris peers at the last page. It’s faint, but definitely there, in Yixing’s neat writing. For the Canadian boy I met today, who doesn’t understand music whatsoever. Kris snorts.
“Twenty sheets. Twenty times he’s met you, and twenty times he’s finished the song, all with a note at the bottom. And nothing since last week.” Lu Han smiles wryly. “I don’t know, but I’d say you made quite an impression on him.”
Kris grips the sheets in his hands. “Does this mean that you…?”
“Can I trust you?” Lu Han asks. “Can I trust you not to hurt him? Not to make him cry?”
* * *
It’s not Kris who makes Yixing cry.
Yixing’s actually laughing at Kris's doodle of a horned beast, which Kris claims is supposed to be a rhino, when the door opens and two people that Kris has never seen before walk through the door. Lu Han and Yixing evidently recognise them, though, because Lu Han flinches, and Yixing gives an enthusiastic wave.
“Jongin,” Lu Han says quietly. The boy on the right gives a slight wave in greeting, closing the door behind him. “Sehun. What are you two doing here?”
“Visiting. We’re on break,” Jongin says. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“If by a while you mean a day,” Yixing says, grinning. “Are you here to kidnap Lu Han for rehearsal? Too bad, you can’t today, because he’s mine.”
“Rehearsal?” Kris asks. He looks the two boys up and down. They move easily, fluidly, and Kris is pretty sure he knows who they are now. “Is this—”
“—Lulu’s dance crew,” Yixing introduces. “Kim Jongin, Oh Sehun, transfer students from Korea. Hey, but seriously, nice timing—you two don’t have anything on, do you? Lulu’s dad is busy today, so we can’t go up to Beijing after all. It’s a pity, I was looking forward to it. I guess if you’re free we can spend the day up in Changsha or something.”
Jongin stares at Yixing for a while. He turns to Lu Han. “Hyung,” Jongin says, sounding both incredulous and exasperated. “You’re still keeping that up?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lu Han says, looking desperately at Jongin.
Jongin sighs. “You can’t do this forever, you know. You said a year ago that it would only be until you sorted something out, and then you’d come with us up to Beijing. A few months, tops. It’s been a year and a half now.”
“What’s been a year and a half?” Yixing grins. “Is there something going on?”
“Nothing,” Lu Han mutters. “Don’t worry, Yixing, they’re just—“
“—hey, hyung,” Jongin says, sliding into the booth next to Yixing. “Tell me, what’s the date?”
Yixing chuckles. “Did you forget? It’s Lu Han’s birthday. April 20th.”
Jongin shakes his head sadly. “No, no, I didn’t forget, hyung. You’re the one who’s forgotten.”
“Jongin,” Lu Han hisses. “Please.”
“Hyung,” the other boy—Sehun—mutters, tugging on Jongin’s sleeve. “Hyung, don’t do this, let’s just go. Lu Han-hyung’s not going to rejoin the crew, not with Yixing here. We’ll look for someone else—”
“—wait,” Yixing says. “Wait, what are you talking about? Rejoin the crew? I was just watching you three practise yesterday, in the dance room—“
“—more than a year ago.” Jongin stands up. “It’s August now. August, 2012.”
Kris takes a sharp breath. There’s a moment of silence.
Yixing starts laughing. “Oh, come on, Jongin, I’m not that stupid. Lu Han, tell him it’s your birthday.”
“It’s…” Lu Han rubs his temples. Yixing’s smile fades. Kris sits there, too afraid to say anything. The tension bubbles and stretches.
“Lu Han,” Yixing says quietly. “It’s your birthday. April 20th, 2011, right? That’s what the calendar says. And the newspaper. Jongin’s just trying to scare me, right?”
“I’m sorry,” Lu Han says. He walks out from behind the counter. “Jongin, Sehun, it’s—could you leave? We’ll talk later.”
Jongin shakes his head. “Okay. But you know, hyung, you can’t keep—”
“—leave. Now. Please.”
“Let’s go,” Sehun says, taking Jongin by the arm. “Sorry, Lu Han-hyung.”
Sehun opens the door. The bell jingles. Slam.
“Lu Han.” Yixing bites his lower lip. “Would you mind explaining what just happened?”
Lu Han takes off his apron and bunches it into a little ball. He sits next to Yixing, burying his head in his hands.
“There was an accident. A train crash, while we were heading up to Beijing to see my dad for my birthday. We were in it.”
“An accident? How come I don’t remember this—”
“—you were in a coma for three months.” Lu Han licks his lips. “And then when you woke up, you thought it was April 20.” Yixing nods slowly. Lu Han sighs. “And then you woke up the next day, and thought it was April 20. Again, and again, and again.”
Yixing frowns. “I—”
“—you have anterograde amnesia, Yixing. You can’t remember new things.”
“So the calendar, the newspaper—” Yixing stares at Lu Han. Lu Han closes his eyes. “Oh. Oh. My missing phone. Your dad being busy. Broken internet. It’s all…?”
“You lied to me?” Yixing chokes out. He grips the edge of the table, knuckles white. Kris gulps as he sees tears welling up in Yixing’s eyes. “No, you—Lu Han, why? How long? For how long have you been doing this?”
“A year and a half,” Lu Han says softly. “It’s been a year and a half since the accident.”
Yixing turns to Kris. “You—you’re in on this too, aren’t you? We didn’t meet for the first time today, did we?”
“No.” Kris scratches his neck. “No. We met over a month ago.”
“A month. Who are you? What’s our relationship?”
Kris looks at Lu Han, hesitant. Lu Han looks away, and Kris turns back to Yixing. A teardrop trickles down Yixing’s cheek, and Kris is tempted to reach out and wipe it away, but Lu Han gets there before him. “Well, I guess I sort of like you. Really like you. And you might like me too. It depends on the day.”
“You’ve written songs for him,” Lu Han says. “About him. Dedicated to him.”
“And I can’t remember any of this.” Yixing wipes his eyes. “I—I need to talk to the doctor.”
“You have,” Lu Han says tiredly. “Many times. Many, many times.”
“I need to talk to them again.”
“I’ll go,” Kris offers. He instinctively puts a hand on Yixing’s arm. Yixing shakes him off, and Kris feels a jolt in his chest.
Of course. Yixing’s only ‘known’ him for a few hours. He’s just a stranger to Yixing at this point. He pulls his arm back to his side, rubbing it. “I kind of want to hear this for myself.”