Rush hour in Los Angeles is always bad, but Han found this morning’s commute especially irritating. “I should have taken a local route,” he complained under his breath, constantly reminded that he was only heading to Oxnard, a city sixty miles away from where he lived.
“Crap, crap, crap,” he muttered, frantically tapping the fingers of his left hand against the steering wheel. Then he scolded himself for swearing. It's bad. You do this for the fans, remember? For the fans. You're visiting one of them today.
Han scoffed at his own thought. Fans? He barely had twenty thousand subscribers to his YouTube channel, a simple little thing on which he posted violin and piano covers of popular songs. And the fan he was visiting- she was dying of cancer. But a fan nonetheless, he chided.
He inched his car forward again, barely gaining any distance in the ocean of reflective, rippling metal. He hadn't even gotten the email eight hours ago- it had been eleven PM.
It had been one of those nights where he wasn't able to fall asleep, and so he had stared at his desktop monitor, glasses askew, strands of hair flying in every direction, as he slowly and painfully edited a video.
He had been seconds away from deleting the email without another thought when he'd realized it was an important one. It consisted of three lines of text, an address, and a heart emoji. Han had read the message twice, written the address down, and gone to sleep with a thumping heart and the urge to do something right.
And now, here he was, sitting in his old Toyota, driving to Oxnard to meet one of his acclaimed “die-hard fans.” Han was supposed to be there as soon as he could, according to the message; he really was trying, too.
But he knew this was one situation where he couldn't bring traffic up as an excuse. Either he wanted to visit her, or he didn't.
She's dying, his heart whispered as he slowed the car to yet another stop. She'll be fine, said his mind, and either way, you don't even know her.
But Han wanted to know her. This was her dying wish, to meet him for the first time, and he knew how much guilt would consume him if he couldn't even fulfill something as easy as this.
So he waited out the traffic, and found his way through the hordes of cars, and finally pulled up in front of the hospital. Taking a deep breath, he walked inside. Han found the room mentioned in the email. He stood outside hesitantly, not quite sure how to introduce himself or greet the girl in this type of situation.
He was twenty-two years old, and had no experience with watching a person die. So Han stood there, in the silent hallway, his right hand tightly gripping his violin case, and opened the door carefully.
There was a girl in the hospital bed, and she looked extremely tired; the thin creases lining her forehead made her look almost eighteen, five years older than she had said in the email.
The was a boy in the chair next to her. Her brother? But they were the same age, not the same ethnicity, and it was unlikely that he was adopted. Friends, then. Maybe they were best friends forever.
He looked up at Han, who stammered, “Hi- I'm Han- and I brought my violin.” The girl smiled and opened her eyes. They were a deep brown, such a common eye color, but in them, Han saw something striking. This girl was dying, he knew. But she was still so… alive.
She watched him as if the mere action of concentrating on his movements was exhausting. Han lifted his violin and bow from their case. “Can you play something loud?” she whispered, the ironic words pale and papery thin as they settled in his ears.
“I like the song ‘Fire,’” she added, startling Han because the song was also one of his favorites. It was so bold, and so energetic, and so full of life.
She smiled faintly as he raised the violin to his chin. “Your hands are pretty,” she managed. “Like swans.”
Han was taken aback. This girl had practically no energy left in her, and she still wanted to compliment him? “Thank you,” he whispered.
His ears tingled at the opening notes, and his mind tried to stop him, calling out that it was too early, that she would survive, that he would regret this and every other decision he had made up to this point; but his heart never wavered.
He had come to a metaphorical fork in the road, and he knew that he would never be able to turn back. It was either one way or the other.
Han continued playing, and this time, the music was bolder, more energetic, more full of life than he had ever remembered.
But despite his efforts, the boy silently wiped away tears as Han led the girl to her death.