“Say something. You must have a lot on your mind.” You encouraged, moving your empty cup aside. “Maybe disbelief?”
You groaned as you sat back in the seat. “This makes me want to have a smoke again.”
Detective Do visibly flinched at that. “I didn’t think you smoked.”
“I did sometimes, not too often if that helps. It was really Junmyeon that made me start. I always kept it from him, though, he’d be disappointed in himself if he knew he had done that to me.” You supplied. “Now, where were we?”
He sighed, sitting back on the old sofa, caressing the light velvet texture. “Are these actually from the 30s?” He muttered in wonder before clearing his throat. “Sorry, the year is 1967 and you had just fled from New York. You took the plane to Beijing.”
“Ah, yes. I pretty much settled down in Beijing. I went and grabbed the money that I had left behind when I moved in ‘47 and used the amount to buy myself a place. I lived and worked several different jobs in Beijing for 7 years until I decided I wanted a scenery change. I faked an ID, changed my birth year to 1955 and enrolled in a college in 1974.
In this college, I met a fellow student named Wen. We quickly became best friends, I was overjoyed. It had been 12 years since I had someone I could call a friend. Soon enough, this Wen revealed to me her series of ongoing schemes. Wen was a woman from a poor family in the rural areas that afforded college by scamming rich men and fellow male students.
I got involved when her latest victim, Luhan, harbored a crush on me.”
Beijing, China, 1975
The ID card was still silky in your hand. The details were so precise as if the ID was absolutely legit; all credit to the almost twenty years you had been practicing the art of ID-faking. You quickly scanned the words.
Y/N L/N. Born 1955.
All set for the second term of college. You could feel the excitement inside your chest, the extra jump in your step and the smile threatening to appear. You felt so young— as if you were 20 years old again, and you couldn’t have been happier at that exact moment.
The sweet sound of a familiar language suddenly met your ears, the sweet, playful shove of a shoulder met yours. Your friend, your best friend, Wen smiled brightly at you. “How are you?” She asked brightly, the dimple on her left cheek so deep you chuckled.
“I’m fine,” You singsonged, tucking the ID back into the pant-pocket before tugging the hem of your sweater back down to cover it. Wen’s sweet smile suddenly turned mischievous as she raised her hand, lazily waving it in direction of her boyfriend standing in a ring of boys. You cocked your eyebrow in question, and Wen morphed her lazy hand gesture to a stiff pointing gesture, and the boy she was pointing at was standing with his side facing us, in full conversation with said girl’s boyfriend.
“That is Luhan.”
Luhan. You’d heard that name before, therefore he was certainly not a new kid. Luhan had dark brown hair, silky-looking, parted in the middle and lightly swept out of his face. He was incredibly handsome, you had to admit, his jaw was defined and his build was lean—seemingly effortlessly too. You frowned up at your best friend in question.
“I know. Why are you pointing at him?”
Wen placed her arm within yours and tugged you quickly along the campus grounds and over to the group of discussing boys. As she dragged you over the wet grass, she excitedly whispered into your ear;
“Because Luhan has a crush on you, and I want you to help me scam him.”
The outskirts of Beijing, 1967
It had been a long time since you had worn a cheongsam, and to say you hadn’t missed it would be a lie.
You hugged your coat closer around yourself as you packed the newly bought groceries into the backseat of your newly bought car; your current residence for some time. Just until you could buy an apartment.
Slamming the back door shut and eyeing the auto mobile, you sighed out in bliss. It had also been a long time since you had owned a car, especially one this glamorous. “Buick Riviera,” You breathed out, moving forward and sitting down in the drivers’ seat. “you’re a real beauty.” You finished, Mandarin fluid on your tongue despite the number of years that had gone by since you had spoken it. You pulled out of your parking spot, into the road with an anxious sigh. You knew where you were heading. And you were dreading it.
It didn’t take long for you to reach the long road underneath the arch of trees that tainted the road with long shadows. The weather was nice; the sun peeping through the clouds, saying hi, but the fall wind was too chilly to make this a perfect day. With every second that passed, you came closer and closer to the old mansion, and it only took a couple of minutes through the familiar tree-tunnel for you to reach the vast, green front yard that laid before the even larger mansion. A non-perfect day didn’t stop a couple of children playing among the grass.
You parked alongside another car, the brand and model uninteresting to you this time around, and stepped out onto the gravel, forcing a quick smile to the two children that stopped playing to watch you. “Hello,” You started, pausing when the young girl and boy greeted back immediately.
“is your father home?”
The boy nodded, moved forward to grab your hand in his and lead you over the yard and to the front door of the mansion. The two children didn’t say anything as they made you settle onto the old, memorable sofa in the living room, despite your protests. You told them you only needed to quickly ask their father something but the girl only smiled, not listening as she went to make you some tea. Soon, a pair of footsteps echoed over the familiar floor and joined the three of you in the tea room.
The owner was the one and only Yixing, Zhang Yixing; black hair, fair skin and brown eyes—and 20 years older. He halted when he laid his eye upon you, and you could so clearly hear his breath hitch as he exclaimed your name.
His eyes were wide and he ran over to you, dragging you up from your place on the old sofa and into his warm arms. His warm, strong arms that felt exactly the same as they had 20 years ago. He chanted your name. “You don’t look a day older, Y/N. How?”
Kissing the top of your head, down over the length of your hair, his still plump lips then reached the skin of your face. You pulled a confused face, lightly pushing the man away and staring up into his face.
“Oh, you must be Zhang Yixing,” You smiled politely. “my mother spoke lots about you.” You lied. Easily.
You watched the blissed out expression on Yixing’s face fade, the humiliation of his mistake sink his features with dullness. He let his arms fall off you before stepping away, slowly. He silently sat down in the sofa chair opposite to your own seat. Yixing’s daughter came back inside with a cup of tea, placing it before you on the low, wooden table as you sat back down.
“My name isn’t Y/N, I’m Y/N’s daughter.” You introduced yourself, watching Yixing’s eyes fall, even more. You ignored the screaming inside of telling you to stop lying, to tell the truth, to stay there with Yixing. But you could never. These children, they were his, which obviously meant—
The exact woman from twenty years ago stepped inside the living room, adorning a bright red cheongsam that reached her ankles. She was still beautiful. Her onyx hair was short, tussled just above the tip of her ears and she stepped inside, with a soft smile on her lips, the two children ran to tackle her legs with gleeful grins. Yixing forced a smile to his wife, gesturing to the chair next to his, before looking back to you. His eyes could not mask his miserableness — and yet, his wife sat down, oblivious and content.
“So,” He spoke with pain, with difficulty, and you almost flinched then and there, the lump in your throat starting to suffocate you. “how’s your mother?”
“Gone. A few years ago.” You answered curtly, shaking your head. Yixing didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, his eyes fell on your face as he himself fell into a paralyze. You didn’t know what he was thinking, what he was feeling for you after twenty whole years; a marriage and two children with another woman. You didn’t know after all that time. You didn’t even know what you were feeling, after all that time.
You averted your eyes to his wife, the familiar need to flee present within the adrenaline in your veins. “My mother wanted me to grab something from the house, something that belonged to her. May I search for it? I do know where it’s placed.” You pleaded, and the oblivious woman saw no reasons to deny you.
It only took five minutes for you to find your old room, next to the room that used to be Mr. Zhang’s—they were both children’s room now. You found the small dent in the wall quickly and opened the little, hidden safe secured in the wall. There, you found your share of Mr. Zhang’s inheritance and hurried out of the mansion once again.
Just like you had 20 years ago.
Beijing, China, 1975
It was another warm day in Beijing; the breeze was soft, comforting and it flew past the hem of the yellow skirt that reached the back of your calves. The sun was bright and just a little too hot as it shone upon your onyx sweater, but you didn’t mind. Sunny days in Beijing only brought back heaps and heaps of good memories.
You were sitting outside by a table on campus, constantly toying with your brand new sunglasses—that almost covered your whole face—and trying to focus on the words in the textbook before you. While it was your own choice to major in biology as you returned to university, it was hard to focus on this particular day. Just then, you felt a careful hand fall onto your shoulder.
“Y/N?” A careful yet confident voice spoke. You hadn’t gotten to turn around in your seat before the owner had gracefully sat down opposite to you. It was Luhan.
“Luhan,” You gasped, smiling. “hi.”
He pointed at your book on the table. “Is it homework?”
“I suppose you could call it that, yes. I just need to revise.” You giggled. “Hey, I never got to hear what you major in?”
“Just business.” He shrugged. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to study so my parents just chose for me. It’s a little embarrassing.”
“As long as you’re not hating it, I don’t see a problem.”
Luhan smiled softly then, and silence fell over the two of you. You looked down again, trying to focus on the same sentence you had been reading for over half an hour, only to find it even harder now as Luhan was there. The characters just didn’t make sense to you as they would usually have done, and in addition to that, what Wen had told you just a few weeks ago still lingered in your mind.
“Because Luhan has a crush on you. And I want you to help me scam him.”
At first thought, you had said no. Straight out. No. You didn’t want to get involved with everything Wen was doing; scamming, stealing and lying to those that were better off — especially older men that just wanted the company of young women. Wen took advantage of them, and that was fine because it didn’t involve you. But she was ruthless and she was not taking no for an answer.
Ultimately you had said yes.
Besides, Luhan was quite handsome and it would have been a lie if you said it didn’t affect you. But if it was one thing these 41 years had taught you it, it was to not get attached. Especially not when you were about to steal money from one.
You took the advantage the sunglasses gave you and peeked over at his body opposite to you. He was shyly fidgeting, eyes wavering left and right and his cheeks, you noticed through the tinted glass, were bright red. He was trying to play it cool, and from what Wen had told you, Luhan naturally was very cool, but obviously, you did something to him. You faked a smile, closing the book in front of you and moving to put it back into your backpack. “Luhan, please excuse my bluntness, but I heard you had a crush on me.”
He stuttered. “What?”
“Sorry, I know it was blunt but Wen told me you had a crush, and, you know, I thought—”
“Ah, no, it’s true. I do have a crush on you.” He chuckled. “Hope you don’t find me weird now.”
“I could never.” You chuckled. “In fact, I’m relieved.” You lied.
“I am, I like you too.”
Luhan placed his hand on top of yours, squeezing it just slightly as his smile widened. “That’s great, uh, so would you like to go out sometime?”
A soft sigh, eyes smiling, you nodded. “I do.”
The winds were getting colder by the days, the sun getting weaker and weaker, but that didn’t stop you and Luhan every lunch hour as you hurried out to eat behind the school building. You never really ate, though. The only thing arriving at your lips were lips. His lips.
And you were loving it— too much.
You would always sit, straddling him as he sat on the cold ground, leaning into the wall. Your lips would be interlocked, only parted just long enough to giggle or whisper sweet nothings into the breath of the other. Hearts fluttered and cheeks were flushed. Luhan made you feel so young, he caused this old excitement feeling inside you; as if you hadn’t felt that enough times already.
It was the same, addicting and wonderful feeling all over again, the same feeling that always triggered destruction, heartbreaks, and escapes, but you couldn’t stop. Your developing feelings for Luhan made taking some of his money every time you were together — alright.
The flutters numbed the guilt.
You ran your hands up, over the length of his arms, feeling the soft texture of his blazer before you directed your hands back south, towards the pockets of his trousers where you knew he always kept a few bills. The second your fingertips recognized worn paper, you firmly placed your lips against Luhan’s, dragging the bills out of his pocket and up into your own. You didn’t think too much of what you were actually doing as Luhan let out a surprised moan, his hands coming to rest on your thighs.
He chuckled deeply as you finally parted, and the sound sunk into your abdomen. “This is amazing, really, you’re so gorgeous, but what if someone came back here and saw us?”
“They’d get a show, I suppose.” You giggled. “Don’t worry, baobei, they won’t.
Luhan smiled. “Hopefully.” You added and watched Luhan’s face contort with chuckles, his jaw unhinging off his face and triggering your own laughter.
Luhan’s soft, wet kisses still lingered on your face, your neck and the skin of your shoulders as you made your way over to the place you were going to meet Wen at. She was already there when you arrived, and her deep dimple that usually made you so happy, only made you more dreadful this time around. Her chuckles that usually made yourself chuckle was only obnoxious now that your chest was burning and the money in your pocket wasn’t yours.
Wen jogged over to you, jumping the last few meters, her hand gripping the cloth of her tan midi-skirt as she danced gleefully. Your name left her lips as song and the first thing she did as she stepped in front of you were to fish the money out of your pockets. You let her, biting your lips guiltily while your best— and only friend in 12 years took the money, waved goodbye and left.
You loved Wen, and you were sure she loved you too. But this wasn’t right, and you were going to do something about it, never mind what it would cause for you.
You watched her back disappear more and more, and smiled sadly, enjoying the very last, bittersweet memory of what was your and Wen’s friendship.
“Luhan,” You whispered out, gripping his other hand with yours and bringing your hands together so you were standing opposite to him, holding both of his hands close to your breasts. You kissed his knuckles, the frown on your face deep with the heaviness of your revelation. The words on your tongue felt like lead, tasted like lead. Luhan’s own eyebrows were raised in question.
“Well, go on.” He smiled. “You can tell me anything, baobei.”
“—I’m stealing your money. Wen’s stealing your money.”
He calmly pulled his hands out of yours, away from your stinging lips. He cocked an eyebrow, his mouth agape, and his eyes hard. “What? You’re joking, right?”
When you didn’t answer, he lost his calm. “Are you telling me that you’re the one that’s been taking money from me the whole time? My own fucking girlfriend?” His face was ablaze and not for the good reason. His eyes hardened, even more, you could feel him coating his hatred and anger all over your skin.
You wanted to run, but this time around, you didn’t.
He stared at you as if you were the woman in The Painted Skin; two faced and demonic. Never before had a man looked at you this way. Never before had you angered your lover this way. But you suppose there’s always a first time for everything.
“I’m sorry Luhan, Wen has been doing this for a long time, she just wanted my help. I couldn’t deny her.”
“Don’t even say my name. Ever again.” He spat ruthlessly, and drops of his saliva landed on your skin. Your cheeks were burning, your limbs were tingling. Through the numbness, you were sure there were tears running down your cheeks. You hurried to fish out a few bills out of our pocket, pushing them into his calloused hands.
“Please, this was the only money I could back from her. Take them.” You pleaded, flinching as he threw the money on the ground with a loud screech.
“Shut up!” He gripped your hand in his, sternly. Even through all that anger, he didn’t grip your hand too harshly. “You’re going to pay for this, Y/N- you and Wen. I just can’t believe you did this to me.”
Your vision blurred with your tears.
“I can’t believe you didn’t love me all this time! You used me!”
You wanted to scream that you did, that you did love him. All this time, you had fallen for him despite your age, despite your task. All this time, you had imagined a life with Luhan. All this time you had imagined opening up to him. Your heart was breaking in your very hands, his too, yet the sobs clogged up your throat enough to leave you silent as Luhan left you all alone behind the school building.
Luhan had you and Wen kicked out of the school. Under a week, you lost him, your degree and your only friend. An infuriated Wen threw her curses at you the very same day as she was sent back to her hometown, and that was the day you promised yourself that friends weren’t worth it— and neither were lovers.