Jongin opens his eyes as sunlight drifts into the room. The white of the walls suddenly way too sickening. It's been months since he's last seen colors; his world is now only filled with white. But not the peaceful kind of white. It's the worst kind of white.
On the bed beside his chair, Rei's sound asleep. She has such a heavy sleep these days that only the beep of the monitor indicates that she's still alive and breathing. Jongin visibly relaxes at the sound of her heartbeat and takes a short moment to stretch his tired limbs, which are now sore from sleeping in such an uncomfortable position. He can hardly remember when was the last time he slept in a proper bed, with proper pajamas and in appropriate hours. For months now, he's mostly been sleeping in a chair. Only when Rei threatens to kick him out of the room, does he sleep on a bed. And since he can't afford being thrown out because he needs to be there for her at any time, he unwillingly obeys. But he doesn't sleep in another room. He has arranged himself a make-shift bed near Rei's, so that she's never alone.
His thoughts are pushed away as soon as she makes a light movement to adjust her head on her pillow. Jongin knows it's not the best pillow out there and she would sleep a million times better if she had her own fluffy one and his heart aches at the thought. But they're in a hospital, miles away from home and hospitals aren't exactly the most comfortable places, even though they're meant to nurse people back to comfort. That, sadly, is not Rei's case but she never seems to complain about it. She's understanding of her situation and most of all, she has accepted it. That still doesn't stop Jongin from wanting to buy her even the tiniest piece of comfort, so that at least she gets a good night's sleep after all she has to go through the day.
The sound of the door being opened diverts his attention to Yixing, the doctor assigned to Rei's case. He makes an entrance in the room while carrying the table where he keeps daily medical records of Rei's health progress.
“Jongin. I hope I didn't wake you up.” He offers an apologetic smile to the boy as soon as he takes notice of his puffy eyes and swollen face.
“I woke up before you came here doctor, so no problem.” Jongin's reply comes fast.
Dr. Zhang Yixing or just Yixing as he insists to be called, is a young doctor but he's one of the best in his field. He's originally from China but moved to the U.S. at the age of 14. He pursued medical studies after he finished high school with excellent grades and only one year after he graduated, he managed to get a spot in one of the most famous hospitals in the American continent. His name was the first one Jongin was offered when the Korean doctor who had been following Rei's case, suggested that she got transferred overseas for a more professional treatment.
Dr. Yixing makes his way to Rei’s bed and starts his daily routine of checking her vitals and her heartbeat rate and then proceeds to write his notes on the table.
“I will come later when she's awake, to make some other check-ups on her.”
Jongin nods at the young doctor.
“So, how are you holding up, Jongin?”
“So-so, doc. You know I can't stand it when she's in pain and these last days have been torture for her. I can't wait until she falls asleep so that she doesn't feel anything. But then, when she does fall asleep, I get scared...” He doesn't dare finish that sentence but Yixing understands where he's going.
“I know you feel hopeless Jongin but I'm sure you know we're doing everything we can for her. Nobody said it was going to be easy and I know how much it hurts seeing your loved one suffering. But that's part of the procedure. This is what's keeping her alive.”
“For how much longer though?”
Jongin is desperate and he just snaps at the doctor.
“How long until one day she can't stand it anymore and dies because of how much it hurts? She's been undergoing chemotherapy for 3 months now and all she has managed to feel in that period of time is exponentially growing pain.”
There. He said it this time. He knows Rei's going to die. He has come to terms with it even if it took him long enough to accept. But the least he can do is hope that it won't be painful. He also knows that the good doctor has no fault in this, but his nerves have reached the limit. Jongin can stand anything. But not Rei squirming in indescribable pain. That's just too much.
“Jongin, calm down. Trust me, if I could, I'd do anything to make her pain go away, but I sadly don't have that kind of superpower. I don't know what else to tell you other than to be strong because she needs you. I know it sounds cliché but you very well know that she doesn't need you like this. She'd hurt even more if she saw you right now. All hopeless and scared. If she's courageous enough to endure the pain, then you should do the same. For her sake, okay?”
Yixing knows his words won't do much because the pain Jongin feels in his heart is written all over his face but this is the best he can do for now. He can only push the boy to stand tall, like he's been standing since the first day he entered the hospital to accompany Rei. And Jongin knows that the doctor means well with his words but right now he can't see past that. He can only think about the discomfort Rei is experiencing and how he's incapable of doing something about it and how he hates himself for that. But he still puts on a brave mask in front of the doctor, when the latter informs him that he has to go check on another patient.
His attention is yet again focused on the center of his universe, his beloved Rei, who's still sleeping as peacefully as before, unbothered by Jongin's sudden outburst. He can't help but get closer to her bed and sit on the chair where he's starting to grow roots. He gently pats her hair and dear face. Her pale and tired figure disheartens him to the point where words cannot describe but he knows that the doctor is right. For her, he'll be strong. For her, he'll do anything. Because Rei deserves nothing less than that. His devotion to her is simply unquestionable and it will always be.
Rei is feeling better for the first time in forever. She just finished her chemotherapy session and even though it drained a lot of energy from her, she's still feeling at comfort with herself. Jongin can't ask for more. He can only pray that a day like this repeats itself as much as possible, because nothing puts his heart more at ease than the sight of Rei smiling gleefully, even though she's making jokes at his expense now.
“You really look like your dog in that picture. What's with the hair?” She's laughing too hard at a picture of teenager Jongin that his mother sent them this morning.
“Wait until I show this to Dr. Yixing and my friends at the chemo session. They'll all laugh their asses off.” A tear rolls down her face from excessive laughing.
“Ha ha. Let's all get together and laugh at Jongin's hair. Is this your idea of a good joke, miss?” Jongin is seriously getting offended right now. How can she laugh at him when the age of 15 is obviously the era of crazy hair experiments? But Rei is unstoppable and even though Jongin is acting hurt, he's really content that his funny hairstyle brought back the smile on Rei's face. She looks radiant like that.
“I'm not only stopping at that. I'm also going to create a club and our main activity will be mocking you and your hair.” She even sticks her tongue at him. Leave it to Rei to be childish and playful even when she's in a hospital.
She continues laughing just as much but she suddenly squirms in pain and immediately puts her hands in her stomach area to ease the sudden discomfort, while provoking a million of deathly worries to Jongin in the span of a millisecond.
“Rei? Is it your stomach? Do you need me to call the doctor? Is it hurting too much? Ahhh Rei, you should be more careful with yourself. You're in no condition to be this careless.” Jongin's scolding can beat that of a parent at any time.
“Jongin, I'm fine. It was just a little clench, that's all. No need to worry like that.”
“How can I not worry Rei? You were wincing in pain!”
“But it's not a big deal, Jongin. It was just a little pain. It's not like I haven't felt it before, anyways.”
“But you were feeling good and you haven't been in any pain today.”
“What does it matter if I wasn't in pain today? I'll probably be tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the days after that until one day I'll completely surrender to it and no one will be able to do a thing for me other than let me finally succumb to my death!”
Her words escalated quickly and now there's the worst type of silence hanging between the two of them. Rei's remarks have cut Jongin like a knife and she knows that, but she couldn't help herself from making that comment. She's beyond grateful to him for his concern but sometimes he treats her like a porcelain doll, which she's not. She knows what pain feels like but she has stopped worrying about that. It's only normal under her condition. The screeching sound of Jongin's chair snaps her attention back at him. A tear is rolling down his face and seeing it, she feels like the worst person on this planet. It was not her intention to make him like that, not at all but apparently she chose the wrong way to tell him that he shouldn't worry that much or he'll end up damaging his own health.
“I'm sorry.” She lamely offers to him.
“How many times have I told you not to talk like that? Rei, this is not a joke for heaven's sake.”
“Oh, so you know?” Jongin almost can't believe she's being this inconsiderate.
“Do you know how much I worry every time I see you struggling in pain? Be it small or big, I worry to death Rei. But you don't see that and instead you choose to make lame jokes about it.”
“So now you're telling me I'm being inconsiderate towards your feelings?”
“Then get out of my room.” Rei states too calmly.
“What?” Jongin stares in disbelief.
“I said, get out of my room and take your feelings somewhere else, where they are appreciated and taken into consideration.”
“You can't be serious!”
“I'm DEAD serious.”
She stresses the word “dead” and Jongin winces at her bad choice of words. He knows she's doing this on purpose and she knows that she took the joke way too far, but she's too stubborn to turn back down. Tears still roll from Jongin's eyes but Rei has chosen not to see them anymore. That's why she turns her head to the other side, expecting to hear the sound of Jongin leaving the room, obeying her impulsive order. He does so. But not without turning back to see if Rei is looking at him. She's fiddling with her fingers by the time he has reached the door and doesn't seem to be willing to so much as spare him a glance. So Jongin goes out of the room and closes the door while his back is sliding against it until he reaches the bottom. From inside the room, he can hear Rei sobbing and words are not enough to describe how his heart shatters at that sound. Jongin's tears violently fall from his eyes to his cheeks and he wishes he could go back inside, hug Rei and comfort both their tears away, but maybe this is what they both need. He needs to give her some space in this suffocating hospital that has become her house, while she needs to give him some space so that he doesn't suffocate with her.
Rei knows just how much Jongin worries about her. She knows how many sacrifices he's made just to be with her through every step of her medication and she knows very well that her life won't be as long as she would need it to be in order to repay him everything he's done for her. She can feel herself fading away with every day gone by and she can see how she's dragging Jongin with her. While he's young and perfectly healthy, he's forced to spend the best of his days imprisoned in a hospital with her, who is young too, but perfectly unhealthy. All because he loves her. She's grateful for that, more than words can ever say but she feels like she's taking pieces of life from him. Just because she's withering before time, doesn't mean he should go through it. No matter how much he loves her and she loves him. She's allowed that to happen for more than three months but it all needs to stop. She's been selfish to keep Jongin at her side while she should just set him free so that he can enjoy his given days. Between tears, she tries to find a solution that will end this situation, before guilt eats her alive.
Dr. Yixing is the first face Rei sees the next morning, since Jongin didn't return to her room, according to her wish.
“How's my favorite jokester today?”
Rei doesn't answer. Her fight with Jongin is still hot in her mind and she didn't get that much sleep the other night, worrying where Jongin slept and most of all how’s he feeling. Dr. Yixing catches her sullen mood and decides not to any further.
“He slept in the room next to yours, if you're wondering. That's, of course, if he could get any sleep.”
Rei can feel the doctor's words piercing through her heart and the tears that fall from her red eyes, are out of her control.
“Rei, I didn't tell you that to make you feel bad or even worse than what you are feeling. I spoke with him last night.”
Seeing how the girl in front of him won't speak, Yixing continues with his speech.
“He told me about your little misunderstanding and trust me, as a third party to it, I blame none of you and I'm on nobody's side but you have to admit your words were hard on him. He looked heartbroken last night and that sight was enough for my heart to break as well. Seeing you now just adds to that heartbreak.”
“I know I upset him more than ever.” Rei manages to speak through tears.
“Rei, you have to understand what he feels too. It's not easy on him seeing you like this.”
“But doctor, it's also not easy for me seeing him like that. I'm taking him to a place where he doesn't belong. He doesn't belong in a hospital. He doesn't belong in the hell I'm going through. He doesn't belong in my unavoidable death.”
“If he heard you talking like this, he would get mad and you know it.”
“I know it. That's why I need to find a way to set him free. He doesn't deserve to perish with me.”
“Set him free? Rei, you're not thinking of breaking up with him, are you?” Dr. Yixing can't help himself. He knows how much they love each other.
“You know I can never do that. He's all I have.” Rei bursts in new sobs.
Jongin is really the only one left in her life. Her parents tragically got into a car accident the exact day she got diagnosed with cancer and she thought her life would end then and there. But Jongin was by her side to help her. Besides being a shelter for her, he also became a guardian, a shoulder where she could cry on. He became her lifesaver, her anchor, pulling her away from that depressive state she fell into. He handled the situation like no other. Somewhere between the horrible death of Rei's parents and the shocking news that she has cancer, he somehow found the strength to help her get through everything, one step at a time. It wasn't easy and the way he dealt with everything was so brave, but he was also human in the end of it all. Some days he just couldn't do anything else other than let himself succumb to his own state of sadness. Those days, he didn't let Rei watch him and told his parents to keep an eye on her instead, so that he could give himself a little bit of time to swallow everything that had happened. He took her in his own home, gave up his comfort for her, almost gave up his life just to be by her side and never let her alone. Just like he promised her.
Rei feels indebted and her days are so numbered she can never pay that debt. The only thing she can do and what she has been doing, is to allow Jongin to still take care of her. But that's enough. She can't deprive him from the beautiful things life has to offer just because she's sentenced to death. That's why she wants to set him free. But not by breaking up with him. That would crush both their hearts to pieces. With the doctor's patting, her sobs cease to an end and with their end, comes a new idea in her mind. She slowly wipes the tears away and after Yixing makes sure she won't cry again, he leaves the room to check on his other patients. Rei's heart and mind are now fueled with renewed determination. She's going to give Jongin his life back and she knows exactly just how to do that.
“You want me to do what?” Jongin cannot believe his ears. It's been a week since their “fight” and now they're back to being the way they were before; he forever worried about Rei and Rei forever filled with crazy ideas.
“I said, I want you to get out of this hospital and fulfill every single wish on my bucket list or else I'll be very sad.” Rei repeats one more time, more convinced than ever, while Jongin is still having a hard time digesting her request.
“But Rei that would mean leaving you all by yourself in this lonely hospital. You know that, right?”
“But I'm not alone. There's Dr. Yixing with me and there are also my friends at the chemo sessions: Anna, David, Melanie, Molly and so many others. So I won't feel alone.”
“Rei, that's a bit... I don't know. It was unexpected of you to tell me that. I can't just accept your request and go.”
“Why not? I think it's the perfect thing to do. You've been stuck here with me for three months now, soon to be four. You need to see the world and so do I. I'm bored of the TV stations here. I need some adventure and since I'm incapable of doing that myself, I can experience it through you. Brilliant isn't it?”
“And how will you be experiencing it through me, Rei? I don't quite understand...”
“Why did I have to choose the technology handicapped one?” Rei mutters under her breath but Jongin hears that and he childishly sticks his tongue at her, to which Rei responds just as childishly by sticking her tongue at him.
“There's this magical thing called the internet, dummy and you can actually use that to communicate with me, through video and not only audio. Waah, wondrous, isn't it?”
“Ha ha. You're having too much fun schooling me about technology, aren't you?”
Rei is in full teasing mode while he is in full thinking mode. When she puts it like that, it can be really convincing and the idea is so attractive. But Jongin knows he would lose his peace of mind the moment he steps away from Rei. Plus he doesn't know how much time it will take him to complete her bucket list. Rei sure has a lot of wishes and some of them are a bit... well they're a bit too daring for Jongin's likes so that's a no-no. He'll tell Rei to forget about that and he'll try to find something else to keep her entertained. Until she plays that one card that she shouldn't have.
“Jongin, this is the last thing I ask from you. This is my last wish.”
The look in her eyes and the sadness portrayed in her face are enough for Jongin to re-evaluate his point of view and it makes him step back from his initial denying. He can't tell her no, when it's most probable that this might be the last thing she ever asks of him. Time is not on his side and he can't waste it by making Rei even sadder. He should try to cheer her up because that's his job as her boyfriend, as her angel. He should make an effort to make her wishes come true or else, what's the point?
“I'll do it, Rei. For you, I'll do it.” Her face lights up immediately.
“I knew it. Why do I always have to pressure you to do things, Kim Jongin? You're unbelievable!”
“And you played it low, Rei.” He knows she knows that he's referring to her last sentence that made him agree to all of it.
“Whatever. Everything is tolerable in war and love.” She lamely adds and Jongin can't help but roll his eyes and burst into laughter. Rei is just... impossible. But that's why he fell in love with her.
“So when should I start packing for this new adventure?”
“I'm glad you're calling it an adventure because that's what it is. Good start, Kim Jongin. I like it already.” He rolls his eyes again.
“That's actually quite rude Kim Jongin, but I will kindly let it slide if you promise never to do it again.” Impossible Rei strikes again and Jongin has no other choice but to promise her that he won't roll his eyes at her because it's bad manners.
“That's a good boy. And as for when you'll be leaving... Well, the sooner the better, actually. If only you didn't have to pack, I'd say you should go right now. But I will give you time to prepare. I know some of my wishes are a bit daring and you might need extra stuff to take with you, so you can leave whenever you're packed to go.”
“Okay, commander. Thank you for your orders, instructions and understanding.” It's Jongin's turn to tease now.
“I know you're trying to tease me but I actually like the title commander. I think it suits me well so joke's on you. I'm to be addressed as commander Rei from now on.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” His teasing goes on.
“Loose the sir or you'll lose your head.” And of course she'd threaten him with something.
“Yes, sir.” Jongin whispers while acting scared, but he's having so much fun in this situation.
The preparations before setting off for his new adventure took Jongin a lot more time than he thought. But it wasn't because of deciding what clothes he should take with him. It was because of the worry he felt about Rei. It only took him 2 hours to decide what he needed when he packed his backpack but it took him more than 7 days to gather up the courage and say goodbye to Rei. Unfortunately, her condition only allowed her to see him out of the gates of the hospital and not any further. When the moment came, Jongin wasn't shy about shedding tears. In fact, they came streaming down his face without him even noticing.
“Jongin, you promised not to cry and look at you now!” Rei whined, but she was fighting her own urge of crying.
“Rei...” Jongin was hiccupping due to crying so much.
“It pains me to see you like this, Jongin. Please, don't cry or else I'll cry too and that way you won't be able to leave anymore.”
“I don't want to leave you so I won't stop crying!” Jongin was shaking his head and hoping that Rei would change her mind and let him stay with her. But Rei was stubborn and he knew that very well.
“Jongin, no! You promised me. You'll go on this journey and you won't cry. Or else... or else, I'll slap you and you know I have a heavy hand and it'll hurt.”
“It can't hurt more than this. So go ahead!” He challenged her.
“KIM JONGIN!” She shrieked and that forced him to stop crying like a magic spell.
“I swear to you, if you don't go now, I'll call the police to come and take you. GO!”
Even though she was as pale as ever, with tired black circles hanging under her eyes and seated in a wheelchair, she looked menacing and Jongin knew better than to make her angrier. He gave up, putting his hands up in front of him to emphasize the fact that he will get going. But not before...
“At least let me kiss you goodbye.”
“Did you really think I was going to let you go like that? Kim Jongin, you hurt me!” Rei faked a hurt expression and that finally made Jongin smile, even though he still had tears in his eyes.
He was kneeling in front of her wheelchair all this time but he felt no pain in his knees. He leaned in closer, while his hands cupped Rei's dear face that he wouldn't be able to touch for an unknown period of time. They closed their eyes almost at the same time and their expectant lips finally met each-other in a bittersweet farewell kiss. All emotions were poured into that kiss: love, adoration, pain, fear, but love prevailed them all. It lasted until their lungs could afford without oxygen in them. After that, they had to part but Jongin's hands were still cupping Rei's face and he was as reluctant as ever to let go. She put her hands over his, squeezing them for the last time to give him all the strength she had so that he could get on his feet and live that part of her life that she sadly couldn't.
“It's time now.” Her voice snapped him out of his state and he got up to his feet, trembling a bit.
“I love you, Rei. Don't forget that while I'm gone.”
“I'll never forget that.”
“I'll be back again.”
“I know. I love you.”
They're both aware that he might not be back in time because no one can really tell how much time Rei has left. But they both choose to hold onto that hope, even if it's the tiniest line. It's all they have left.
With one last glance towards her, Jongin is finally out of the hospital. As the gates close in on him, he turns his back and leaves to an unknown road, leaving behind a piece of his mind, a piece of his heart. He can hear both pieces shattering as Rei lets out a sob and it takes all his willpower not to turn the other way around and hug her to comfort. But he made a promise. And even if it breaks his heart, promises are made to be kept and that's what he'll do. He'll give Rei a piece of life.
It’s been two days since Jongin started the journey of fulfilling Rei’s bucket list and he still hasn’t had any luck with any of her wishes. Quite honestly, he has no idea where to start from. While seated in a coffee shop drinking a café latte, he takes another close look at Rei’s wishes and wills his mind to think rationally about them. See which he can fulfill while in the U.S and which ones he’ll have to fulfill in other places. He immediately crosses out numbers 8 and 9, thinking there is no way he’ll perform them in the States. Simply because 8 requires of him to “dance to Crayon Pop’s Bar Bar Bar” in the middle of a crowded place while wearing the cute Crayon Pop outfits, while 9 requires of him to “dance in the rain alone”. People would surely think of him as “that weird Asian guy” and he would prefer not to be thought as that, thank you very much. He’d much rather do those in Korea, where he’ll still be somewhat judged but not labeled as a “weird Asian guy”. Number 10 requires him to watch the sunrise… upside down. Not only a “No, can’t do!” in the U.S., but also a “No, can’t do!” wherever, because that would possibly require of Jongin to do a handstand and he can’t do one even if his life depended on it. Or he’d just have to hang from a tree to be able to see the sunrise upside down which was as bad as the handstand. Moving up to number 2, “finish university”. That would take a lot of time for him to fulfill because he was only able to attend the first semester of his first year, before the Korean doctor suggested for Rei to be treated in the USA. Completing university would take at least four years and he wasn’t quite sure if Rei would make it that far long. He actually hadn’t given much thought to whether he’d return to finish his studies or not and frankly speaking, he may have forgotten about it. But as always, Rei would find a way to bring up important matters to his attention, even without saying a word. He couldn’t help but imagine how wonderful it would have been if they both attended university and graduated together. Rei would look stunning while holding her degree in English Literature and he would look proudly at her while holding his degree in Architecture. That sudden thought of them together made his heart swell with pain. It had only been two days and yet he missed Rei like crazy, so much that his lower lip started quivering and tears pooled in his eyes almost immediately, but he stared at the ceiling to keep the waters at bay and willed himself to maintain his calm. He should keep a positive attitude towards this adventure that had yet to start. That’s what Rei wanted from him. No bittersweet and sad thoughts. Only happy thoughts.
He went on checking the list again. Number 1 on Rei’s list was: “buy something out of Earth”. Jongin had no idea what Rei had in mind as she wrote that but he figured it would take a lot of creativity from his part to accomplish that and the more he thought about it, the more intrigued he got. Still, that wish would have to wait for a while, at least until he found the perfect thing to buy. His eyes wandered at number 5 on Rei’s list: “travel to Italy and toss a coin in the Fontana di Trevi”, while further on, number 7 required to “take a last minute flight”. He thought that could be a good start for him. Combine those two wishes together. Take a last minute flight to Italy and then toss the coin in the fountain in Rome. He made quick way out of the coffee shop he was seated in and immediately called for a cab to take him to the airport as soon as possible. If he was lucky enough, he could catch a last minute flight to Rome even though it would cost him a lot. He was prepared to spend whatever amount needed if it meant to make Rei happy again. Thinking of her, he immediately took out his phone to write to her.
“On my way to the airport. Number 5 & 7 are my start.”
He also sent her a proof picture of him sitting in the cab and cursed himself a million times for never learning how to take a proper picture, even though Rei would beg to differ every single time. He wasn’t waiting for a response from her, as it was only 11:20 and Rei was supposed to be doing her chemo session. Anxious, he took a look outside the cab to check on the traffic and luckily, there wasn’t too much. In approximately 10 minutes, he’d be at the airport, praying to his lucky stars for a last minute flight to Italy. If there weren’t any then he’d have to pick another one, whatever destination available he could find and hopefully it would be close to Italy. Or else he’d really curse at his bad luck.
And just as he expected, there were no last minute flights to Italy but there was one to Russia and one to the Czech Republic. He chose the latter since it was closer to Italy and paid a ridiculous amount of money just to get in the plane, in the economy class, somewhere close to the end of the seats. Once in the waiting area, he snapped another picture of himself and sent it to Rei.
“On my way to the Czech Republic. Don’t even ask why because you know it.”
This time, he got a response from Rei, who sent him a picture of herself playfully sticking her tongue out at him.
“Don’t be a crybaby. You’ll thank me for this.”
He seriously doubted that in that moment but made no comment to Rei about it. After all, this is what she wanted and he would make it happen for her. Bidding her goodbye, he got up to board the plane as soon as his flight was called, not forgetting to turn off his phone. He figured he could get some sleep while flying, since he hadn’t been able to do so in the last couple of days.
The flight to the Czech Republic surprisingly didn’t tire Jongin at all. In fact, he got a good sleep and when he landed in Prague, he immediately took out his phone to contact Rei. Since it was 21:00 in the new time zone, Washington where Rei was, was 6 hours behind, so she should be done with her chemo session from his calculations. Snapping yet another picture of himself (and still cursing at the inability to take decent ones), he texted Rei.
“Landed safely in Prague. I shall check for flights to Italy and then off I go.”
He got a response almost immediately.
“Well, well. One done, nineteen more to go!”
Yes, her bucket list only had twenty wishes to be fulfilled and those were before she got diagnosed with cancer. But just as she thought she’d be able to do them herself once university started, life decided to play its tricks on her and give her the worst news of her life: that she would die probably long before she could manage to fulfill any of her wishes. So now it was Jongin’s duty to make her wishes happen before her time expired.
Always remembering to push aside sad thoughts, he rushed to the information desk to see if there were any flights to Italy and this time, the lucky stars shone upon him as he was able to catch yet another last minute flight but this time to Rome. So basically he fulfilled one of Rei’s wishes twice. Feeling positive about this, he boarded the plane that took him to one of the most beautiful attractions in the world. While tossing his coin in the Fontana di Trevi, he wished for Rei to live a while longer. It was the only thing Jongin could ever wish for. He knew she was at a point of no return with her sickness, so he couldn’t wish for her full recovery but he could at least ask for her to be by his side longer, so that he could make her happy again. So that they could create some new memories together. So that he could love her more. Closing his eyes while whispering this wish of his to whoever was responsible for making wishes come true, he tossed a coin into the fountain and a sense of new hope brought a little smile to his usually sad face.
And so Jongin’s journey took him to so many places around the world. It took him to Europe, then Africa to climb up the Mountain Kilimanjaro, to Latin America to watch a live match of Brazil and Argentina and then finally to Asia where he did most of the embarrassing wishes Rei had written down (like the terrible “Bar Bar Bar” dance and the dancing alone in the rain, that got him almost arrested). Every time he made one of Rei’s wishes come true, he recorded it and then sent it to her so that she could see how he was honoring her desires. And every time they got the chance to video chat with each-other, it was hard not to cry because it had been more than three months since he had last seen her and kissed her and he missed her like crazy. It was down to the last two wishes now: “buy something out of Earth” and “finish university”. While the first one, he still hadn’t figured out how to do because he obviously lacked imagination, the second one was probably the one he dreaded the most, as it required something he had plenty of, but Rei didn’t: time.
Their latest video-chat was an expected shock for Jongin as Rei was now bald. No matter how much she tried to hide that fact from him, he was still able to see how Rei had lost her beautiful black locks due to the progression of her ugly disease. But while her sickness was indeed an ugly one, Rei still remained beautiful in Jongin’s eyes and he made sure to tell her that multiple times.
“Rei, you can’t look ugly even if you really tried to.” He told her for the third time already.
“Jongin, please drop that matter. Pretend you didn’t see it.” She was in tears and was refusing to look at him in the eyes (through the video that is).
“Rei, look at me. I’ll drop that matter. Fine, we won’t talk about it. But please look at me in the eyes. I can’t bear not to be able to look at you.”
So she gave in to his request and finally looked him in the eye. Those brown orbs of his made her forget about her problems temporarily and just pulled her to a happy place, where she was healthy again. That was how powerful his gaze was. That was the sort of magic Jongin had over her. He spoke first.
“I have only two wishes left now. The university and the thing from out of Earth.” He pouted, hoping he’d get Rei’s bad mood to dissipate and maybe even help him figure out what he should do about that impossible wish of hers.
“You want help from me, don’t you?” She was back to her usual mischievous self as she figured him out in an instant.
“No. Of course not. I was just telling you that. To strike conversation.” Even Jongin himself knew he wasn’t convincing enough, but he had to play that card.
“Jongin, please. You told me that two days ago. No need to repeat yourself, is there?”
“Rei, you hurt me, you know that?”
“Actually, I should be offended right now. It seems like you’re not putting much effort into this and the worst is that you seem not to know me at all. I mean, I thought you would have figured that by now. But you disappoint me.”
It was Jongin’s turn to feel offended.
“I’m not talking to you anymore.” He pouted like a child to her.
“Whatever, sore loser. Say thank you to my star in the night sky that I’m not teasing you any more about this and that I’m actually putting an end to this conversation.”
At that, Jongin’s interest picked up again (it never left though).
“But Rei, you’re cutting it short. We’ve only been talking for forty minutes.”
“I know that lover boy. But I need my beauty sleep. Or you want me to sacrifice that for consoling you and your loser-self?”
He let all the teasing pass because Rei was right. She needed her rest and Jongin wouldn’t deprive her of that, no matter how much he wanted to talk to her.
“Alright. But next time, we’ll talk longer. To compensate for our short talk this time.”
“We’ll see about that. I’m hanging up first then.”
“Rei, wait. I love you.”
At that, Rei’s face softened visibly and a few tears tried to escape from her eyes, but she managed to keep them unseen.
“I love you too, Jongin. So much. Too much!”
He smiled at her. A full, blinding, typical Jongin smile that she called even more radiant than the sun. And that managed to make her heart flutter just like the first time that special smile had been directed to her.
“Goodbye Jongin. I’ll miss you.”
“Goodbye Rei. I love you.”
He failed to notice how she said “I’ll miss you” instead of “I miss you”. Probably because he was trying too hard to find the strength in himself to let her go. But he told himself he’d talk to her again in a few days and with that in mind, he bid her goodbye for the last time.
“Are you sure you did the right thing?”
“I’m sure I did the wrong thing. But I had no choice.”
“You know you had the choice to tell him the truth, Rei.”
“Wouldn’t make a difference. It’s better if he remembers me like this. I’m already at my worst.”
“Dr. Yixing, there really is no point in discussing this anymore. It’s done. Please promise me you’ll make sure he receives everything I left for him when he gets here.”
“Sure thing, Rei.” Dr. Yixing lets it rest at that.
Jongin figured it out. And actually, even though she had claimed she wouldn’t help him, in the end she did. In their last conversation, she mentioned her star in the night sky. That was it. That was the answer. The thing from out of Earth. He would buy her a star and name it after her. And so he did. He took a flight back to the States and bought Rei her very own star, officially registered in the Star Registry. With that fateful paper, he headed straight to the hospital, not caring that he hadn’t gotten any sleep since almost two days. He just wanted to see her proud face when he’d tell her how he managed to fulfill her wishes and how he’d figured out even the hardest one on the list. But when he got to the hospital, more specifically to the room she was supposed to be in, he found another person that wasn’t his Rei. He made a quick run to Yixing’s office, who looked more like a ghost than a human being. Probably the worst Jongin had seen him. And he had known the doctor for some time now.
He soon understood why Rei wasn’t in her room anymore. He finally understood why the doctor looked like that. He finally had to accept the truth. Rei had passed away just the day before he arrived in Washington again. Their last video-chat was literally the last time they would see each-other, but he didn’t know that because she chose not to tell him. And even though Dr. Yixing made sure to explain Rei’s thinking to him, to justify why she did what she did, Jongin was in his right to feel upset and shed millions of tears. He lost the ability to think and process whatever Dr. Yixing was trying to tell him. He just didn’t want to understand him and most of all, he didn’t want to understand her. He didn’t want to understand how she could be so selfish and not tell him. He didn’t want to understand how she could deprive him from being there for her in her last moments. Hold her hand for the last time. Kiss her forehead for the last time.
But that was what she decided.
Rei was gone.
He was alone.
Jongin opens his eyes to find himself in an all too familiar room. For months now, he hasn't been living in his house. Instead he has been living in a hospital, exactly the one Rei was admitted in, while fighting her war against cancer. It's not coincidental that he asked for this room. Her room. It was his last wish to be treated in the same place where Rei spent the last months of her life.
The chair beside his bed is empty. He remembers the days when that chair served him as a bed and a bittersweet smile crawls to his lips. He was a young boy back then, while now he's an old man lingering in his death bed, replaying memories from the past. A creak from the door snaps his attention to Dr. Zhang or Bai as he likes to be called.
“Good morning Mr. Kim.”
“Good morning Bai.” Jongin whispers and beckons the doctor to come in. Like father like son, Bai took Yixing's position in the hospital after the latter passed away.
“How's my favorite jokester today?” Just like Rei was Yixing's favorite patient, Jongin was Bai's favorite. His father made sure to tell him all about Jongin and Rei and Jongin himself told Bai a lot of stories from his younger days.
“I'm more than ready to go.”
Dr. Bai's face becomes somber at that disheartening comment. He really doesn't like it when his patient talks like that, but they both know the quicksand is closing in on Jongin. No sort of cancer is merciful and Mr. Kim's rectal cancer is only getting worse as the days go by. But that's still no reason for him to give up and talk like that. Bai lets it slide however, knowing that going against the man will only make the both of them feel worse, so instead he asks him if there's something he needs. Anything.
“Actually, Bai, there is something. Would you be kind and give me that box I asked you to take care of when I came here?”
“Surely, Mr. Kim. I'll go get it now.”
Bai returns a few minutes later, holding a black box in his hands, one that Kim Jongin entrusted him to safeguard on the first day he was admitted to the hospital. Knowing that it's time for him to leave, he bids Mr. Kim goodbye, to go check on his other patients.
Jongin proceeds to open the box and reveal its content. It's been a long while since he last opened it and his hands are shaking with excitement. When Dr. Yixing first handed him the box, he didn’t want to take it. But he eventually did. Because she had left it for him. He knew he would take anything coming from her, but that still didn’t stop him from being sad. It took him a long time to open the box. He simply couldn’t find it in himself to look at its contents. But 6 months after Rei had passed away and his initial depression had subsided, he opened the box and finally saw what was inside.
That day when he was still a young boy, he promised to himself that he would open that box again only when it was time for him to leave and now he felt that the time was near. He took out the first letter in the box and a tear rolled down his cheek. He knew what it said but he still wanted to open it and read it. To be reminded of her through her handwriting.
“My dearest Jongin,
When you receive this letter, I'll be long gone but that should be no reason for you to be sad. This won't be a sad letter. On the contrary. It will be a letter of gratitude. And a letter of hope (hopefully).
Thank you for fulfilling my bucket list. But while you went out there doing for me all those things I couldn't do for myself, I got to thinking how selfish I was for making you do that. I burdened you with my wishes, putting aside your own. Knowing that you'll never admit my words (even though you very well know they're true), I decided to do something for you. So... I'm giving you your very own bucket list, where you can write all your wishes and goals. Of course I had the audacity to write down the first one and I expect you to comply with it. If not, I'll be angry and you know how ugly I get when I'm angry.
I love you! You know that? Even though I never told you enough, I really, really love you. And I refuse to write it in past tense. Even now. So I'll write it in present tense. Because that's how it will be. Forever. I love you!
I think I managed to end this letter on a happy tone. Yes, I think I did well.
Yours truly and forever,
He puts the letter aside and searches the box for another one. Rei's handwriting is practically everywhere, even on his bucket list as she had poured a lot of time in making it. She had chosen his favorite colors to combine: black and red. He smiles fondly and proceeds to open the envelope in which Rei had put his bucket list and the letter, along many pictures of the two of them together, both in their best days. Carefully, he opens it to find the first wish on his own bucket list, courtesy of his crazy girlfriend.
“be happy :)”
And while that was Rei’s first wish for him, it was also his last one for himself. Jongin didn't add another wish to his bucket list even as the years went by. He felt that what Rei wished for him, was more than sufficient and it was also not an easy task to complete. And the way Rei chose to leave him, didn’t help him at first. It would take him years to make that happen. That's why his bucket list was left untouched. Because everything he had to do, was already written there. But in the end, he did live up to Rei's words. Because she told him to be happy, he lived a happy life, although he really struggled in the beginning. He went to college where he was happy, he got a job that made him happy. However, he never found a person to love after Rei left. His heart remained only hers. But that didn’t matter to him. He was happy. He is happy. He smiles for one last time before putting all the letters and pictures inside the box and takes one last glance around the room. He can already feel it. He can feel Rei's presence in every corner even though the room has hosted many other patients after her. He can almost hear the sound of her laughter, he can almost smell her scent. It’s time. Time to finally meet her again.
Jongin closes his eyes as eyes as sunlight drifts into the room. The white of the walls suddenly not so sickening. It's been months since he's last seen colors; his world is now only filled with white. But not the worst kind of white. It's the peaceful kind of white.