The small cafe sat on the corner of the street, surrounded on one side by a small supermarket and across the street from an old hospital, green vines creeping up the chipped paint.
Stepping through the sagging doorway, you’d realize the interior of the small cafe was unique to say the least. Gaudy curtains hung from the windows, obscuring most of the sunlight and the stools wobbled around precariously on their three legs. The floor was made up of colored tiles, though by this point, most of the tiles were tinged some hideous hue of coffee brown or piss yellow. Despite its slightly unique location and questionable choice of decor, many customers visited the cafe often brought back again and again by the aromatic coffee, Luhan being one of them.
It was there that Luhan would sit down cautiously on one of the few stools before balancing his bags on his knee and taking out a few thick textbooks. The barista, Xiumin, would place his usual- a large cup of coffee, one sugar, one cream- on the counter in front of him before quirking an eyebrow as if to say what else would you like. Usually Luhan would choose whatever had been freshly made that morning, whether it was a chocolate chip muffin or a buttery scone filled with strawberry jam, and he’d settle down underneath the dimly lit florescent lights and do his work.
It was one day in early fall that they coincidentally met in the small building. Luhan liked to think of it as fate. Luhan was already settled in his seat, his second cup of coffee half empty and a few crumbs littering the counter in front of him. His nose was buried inside his physics book, oblivious to the chatter of the busy cafe.
He walked into the small cafe, shivering although the weather was still relatively warm out, ducking under the saggy doorway to reach the counter. Luhan gave the boy a small smile when their eyes met and was surprised when the boy smiled back, eyes crinkling into crescents as his lips turned up. Luhan’s attention was immediately diverted from his physics book as Xiumin arrived with a cup of vanilla chai and handed it to the boy. It wasn’t only the rainbow hair that attracted Luhan’s attention nor was it the way the boy was dressed; all bundled up in a large sweater and skinny jeans when it was so nice out. As if he sensed Luhan’s stare, the rainbow haired boy turned to face Luhan and Luhan’s breath caught in his throat.
“Sehun,” the boy greeted, sticking an arm out and Luhan clasped it dumbly, nodding mutely staring at the boy in front of him. Sehun had gaunt cheekbones, a chiseled chin, striking eyebrows and his features were a mix between feminine beauty and masculine good looks. That and the strikingly colorful hair and his twinkling eyes. It was only seconds after when Sehun raised an eyebrow in amusement that Luhan realized he didn’t introduce himself yet nor had he let go of the hand clasped with his.
“Luhan,” he blurted out quickly and released Sehun’s hand causing the boy to chuckle and the rainbow locks on his head to bounce around happily.
They stayed like that, sitting next to each other on the precariously wobbling chairs chatting for hours until Xiumin finally shooed them away. By then, the dregs of Luhan’s coffee were cold and untouched but he kept the cup with him for that familiar bittersweet smell. They agreed to meet at the cafe next week, same time and by the time he reached his apartment, Luhan’s jaw ached from smiling too much.
Sehun, Luhan learned slowly, was a boy who’s mood varied almost as much as his hair. The second time they met up Luhan almost didn’t recognize him as his hair was now an atrocious shade of pink. It was only when Sehun called out, “hyung” with his soft chuckle that Luhan recognized him. They would sit down and talk, engaging conversations about the most trivial topics whether it was f(x)’s new comeback– which Sehun was surprisingly excited about having died his hair red to match– or the World Cup series– which was more Luhan’s cup of tea. Despite sitting in the cafe, Luhan noticed how Sehun never ordered coffee, opting instead for chais and the sweet pastries. It was ridiculous how his eyes lit up when sweets were involved. Luhan learned that Sehun was extremely interested in art, once rambling for fifty seven minutes (not that Luhan was counting) about the new art exhibit and the artist he had managed to meet. The younger boy was also smart, often helping Luhan study for upcoming quizzes, whether it was world history or calculus. Luhan learned that Sehun had never traveled abroad and that his favorite drink was bubble milk tea. He noticed how Sehun sometimes lapsed into a lisp when he spoke too fast or excitedly and that he had a grace about him when he walked, sloped shoulders and all. Most of what Luhan learned about Sehun was from observation, because he also learned that the boy would often change topics when the topic became himself.
In turn, Sehun learned that Luhan needed at least two cups of coffee a day to survive and that his worst subject was physics. He noticed that Luhan would often get distracted when they talked (though he didn’t realize he was the cause). He learned that Luhan’s sneezes could be compared to trumpets and that Luhan hated wearing scarves or anything restricting. He learned that Luhan had always wanted to be a doctor but was embarrassed because he thought it was such a cliche job. “I like doctors” Sehun answered simply and that was the end of the discussion. Sitting in the coffee shop next to Sehun, the younger boy’s warmth right next to him, became Luhan reprieve from the outside world. The small cafe with the gaudy windows became Luhan’s solace. And at the end of the day when all that was left was the bittersweet smell of the coffee dregs, they would leave their own separate ways back into reality.
It was one bitterly cold day in winter that Sehun first didn’t arrive. Luhan waited inside, sitting where he usually sat, his two feet tucked under the stool, fitted snugly into warm winter boots. He sat there waiting until late into the evening, physics book propped up but he was still on the page that he started on. Finally without Xiumin’s prompting, he threw everything into his book bag and left.
He came back the next week, brought to the cafe by the desire to see Sehun and the bittersweet taste of coffee. This time Sehun was there, already perched on a stool, sipping on his chai. Luhan didn’t question him for his absence and he offered no explanation. They just sat and talked like every single other time and as the clock ticked into the later hours, they left their separate ways.
Sehun’s absences became more and more frequent as the cold months went by. More times than not Luhan sat alone on his perch, a textbook set out in front of him as he stared out the window. Luhan never asked for excuses and Sehun never offered him any. When, and if he did arrive, they sat on their respective stools and talked, their conversations lighter than air as if anything of more value would shatter the peace. Sehun’s hair became more and more colorful, and to Luhan’s dismay, more and more dead, the vibrant green locks often dry and scratchy.
When Sehun hadn’t arrived for their meetings for more than four weeks, Luhan cracked. He asked around the cafe wondering if anyone ever saw a boy with colorful hair, a genuine smile and dazzling sharp wit. Xiumin was the one who replied.
“If you’re looking for Sehun, I suggest you go across the street.” Glancing out the window, peeking through the gaudy curtains, Luhan peered at the barista curiously.
“Go across the street to where?” He prompted the barista who was stirring a cup of mocha.
“To the hospital. And ask to see patient 1202.” Xiumin gave a small wistful smile. “Names don’t exist in places like that.”
Luhan uttered a quick thanks before grabbing his book bag and ducked through the sagging doorway. Crossing the street, he found himself in front of the old hospital. Up close, he could see the chipping paint behind the veil of vines and frozen leaves and the door creaked when he opened it.
“Patient 1202” he said to the front desk and the girl behind the counter nodded, distracted by the documents in front of her.
“Visiting hours end in 1 hour. Its down the hallway on the right, room 56.” Luhan nodded before slowly walking down the hallway.
As a child, Luhan had loved the hospital. The long, airy hallways were adventures waiting to happen and the doctors in their white lab coats were heroes to be looked up to. However, at 20 years old, walking inside the hospital, the hallways felt restricting and cold and the place reeked of antiseptics. It was only when he turned right that he realized this was the long term care facility center. Reaching for the doorknob of room 56, Luhan took a deep breath and stepped in.
Sehun lay on the bed, looking paler than usual. His veins were prominent and what was left of his now blonde hair, was wispy and thin. He looked up in surprise at the arrival of a visitor and he broke into a crooked grin at the sight of Luhan.
“Why didn’t you tell me,” Luhan blurted out the same time Sehun asked, “How did you find me?” and both boys chuckled despite the lack of humor in the situation. Luhan walked closer towards the bed and grabbed a chair, wincing as the chair squeaked.
“Cancer,” Sehun said as a way of explanation and Luhan’s eyes drifted up to what was left of Sehun’s hair. “I couldn’t go see you because Dr. Myungsoo wouldn’t let me,” Sehun shrugged, running a hand through his wispy locks, almost wistfully. “And we never exchanged numbers.”
“Is this why you always dye your hair? And why you’re always dressed so warmly? And why you’ve never traveled outside.” The questions became less of questions and more of statements as Sehun cheerfully nodded in response to everything.
“I’d rather live life to its fullest,” Sehun answered, eyes twinkling, “and let my hair have all the opportunities in the world. And I’d rather my hair be dead from dye first before it all falls out.”
“Are you going to be okay,” Luhan asked, voice cracking. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Sehun shrugged slightly and Luhan noticed the IV dripping into his arm ands and the other thousands of tubes and needles surrounding him. “Maybe, maybe not” was the calm reply but it just sounded like a flat out no. “Life is only precious because it ends,” Sehun stated matter of factly and giving Luhan another crooked grin. “Thank you for the last few months by the way.”
“What do you mean,” Luhan managed to splutter out, hand finding a grip in Sehun's solid handshake. “I didn’t do anything. You were always there for me.”
“You were the only one who came back,” Sehun answered with a quiet smile. “And now I might have to leave you first.” Sehun looked wistfully at his own arm, the IV dripping steadily in. “I’ve never had to leave someone before, I’m not quite sure what to do.”
Luhan forced out a laugh. “You’re not leaving me yet Sehun. You’re going to fight cancer and kick its ass.” The nurse walked in and gave Luhan an apologetic smile. “Sorry, visitor hours are over.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Luhan told Sehun and the latter’s face brightened up. “You’re not leaving me, okay?”
Sehun just shrugged, a small smile on his face.
A few weeks later, Luhan wasn’t quite sure if Sehun could keep his promise. While Sehun had recovered the first week or so, he had been getting weaker and weaker the last few. His hair was completely gone by this point, his head a pale, smooth egg and the boy often tried to cover it up with hats and snapbacks. Hearing Sehun breathe was like hearing a paper bag inflate and deflate slowly, so soft and fragile. The veins on Sehun were prominent and there were often bruises on the milky pale skin.
But Sehun was still the one who kept it together while Luhan had several meltdowns a day. Though his voice was soft, it was still comforting and solid and they still had their light hearted conversations. And every day at the end of the day Sehun would give Luhan a soft smile that Luhan now saw as bittersweet and say quietly.
“Thank you for staying so long.”
Luhan smiled back sadly. “No. Thank you for staying so long.”