Editor(s): grape seed
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Once, he’d thought he could spend the rest of his life together with someone until they grew old and their hair turned white. But as it turned out, the emotions of someone who didn’t yet understand life very well were just like graffiti on the walls of a demolished building—windswept and battered by rain, it gradually fades, day after day. When you came back to visit a couple months later, that wall would no longer be there, and only a pile of bricks and rubble would remain. And in another couple of years, even the foot of the wall would have been completely removed.
Zhou Luoyang quickly went downstairs, shaking apart the tangled wires of his headphones. At the bottom of the residential building was a broken, dusty mirror that had been tossed out by another resident. He straightened out his clothes and roughly brushed his hair in front of it. He wheeled his bike out and hopped on, then put on his headphones.
It was September seventh. The brilliant noon sun shone high; the setting sun was resplendent. The scorching gusts of early autumn heat rushed at him in an instant. Reflected in the glass sides of the countless tall buildings, Wan City looked like a huge laser cage in some fragmented dreamscape.
Zhou Luoyang hummed to the rhythm of his music. From time to time, he stopped at the intersection of traffic lights. Bobbing his head to the music, he put in the address of a restaurant into his GPS. Amongst the rush hour crowd, he was like a stubborn fish swimming against the current as he set off toward the Second Ring for his appointment.
“Make the most of this,” the person who’d set them up said through the phone. “Don’t crack any inappropriate jokes again.”
Zhou Luoyang leaned on the handlebars and said helplessly, “I know. Isn’t it just a meal? Why are you more worried than I am?”
From the phone came: “I’m trying to get you to find a way to pay me back soon.”
Zhou Luoyang parked his bike on the curb. He twisted the lid off of his water bottle and said, smiling, “Does this little young master seem like someone who doesn’t pay back the money he owes? I’ve arrived. Talk to you later. I’m hanging up now.”
In the half year since he’d come to Wan City, Zhou Luoyang had taken care of what he needed to take care of. He repaid some of the money he owed, borrowed some money from his friends, and rented an apartment between the Third and Second Ring. After he made inventory of the inheritance his grandfather left behind, he moved here to try to establish himself in this big city and provide for himself and his younger brother.
Private room 12…The other party of this appointment was a male executive. Zhou Luoyang checked his phone and knocked on the door. From within the room, a firm voice said, “Come in.”
Zhou Luoyang entered the private room and smiled at the man. He was currently on the phone with someone, and he gestured to Zhou Luoyang to take a seat first and wait just a moment.
The man was about forty and was currently in the middle of talking business on the phone. Zhou Luoyang cast another glance at his own phone. From what he could gather from the “supplementary info” that the person who’d introduced them had just texted him, this person was the boss of a real estate company. He was successful in his business but was gay, and he wanted to find a suitable male partner with whom he could spent the rest of his life…
What does that mean? Zhou Luoyang wondered. I’m not here for a blind date. I’m here to look for a business partner!
“Hello, Zhou Luoyang,” said the middle aged man. “My name is Yu Jianqiang.”
Since he had already come, Zhou Luoyang could only nod. After he’d biked the whole way here, his white shirt was soaked in sweat, revealing the pale, vague outline of his muscles. As the air conditioning inside the room ran, he shivered, suddenly a little bit cold. With a keen smile in his eyes, Yu Jiangqiang looked him up and down several times. He seemed to be quite pleased with his appearance. Zhou Luoyang felt a little bit uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
“It’s quite hot today,” Yu Jianqiang said. “Did you walk here?”
Just as Zhou Luoyang was about to respond, Yu Jianqiang received another phone call and could only gesture at him to sit. He passed him the menu and indicated for him to order first, before getting up and standing to the side to answer the phone.
Zhou Luoyang perused the menu while listening closely to what Yu Jianqiang was saying over the phone—basically, he was discussing bids and buying land.
“I’m terribly sorry.” Yu Jianqiang hung up once again and explained, “I’ve been wanting to buy a plot of land. The auction is tomorrow.”
Zhou Luoyang nodded hastily. The other man presumably was very busy with work, yet he’d kept this appointment, which showed how much he valued Zhou Luoyang—or the person who’d introduced them.
”I hear you came to this city very recently?” Yu Jianqiang put his phone on silent. “Have you found a job?”
“No.” Zhou Luoyang handed the menu back to him and said, “You can order whatever you want. I’m okay with anything. I’ve been back for half a year. Been busy moving in and taking care of some household stuff.”
“What do you study?”
“You’re from here?”
“Well…my grandpa’s from here. After he passed, there was no one at home anymore.” Zhou Luoyang then explained, “My mom and dad passed a long time ago. I came here with my little brother to make a living.”
“You have a little brother?” Yu Jianqiang was a bit surprised. He hadn’t heard about this from the person that introduced them. Smiling, he asked, “Is he as handsome as you?”
“He’s better-looking than me.” Zhou Luoyang was smiling again, revealing even, pearly white teeth. “He just turned sixteen. He’s going to be a first year in high school.”
Yu Jianqiang nodded leisurely. “What kind of work are you going to look for? It’s not easy for undergrads to find jobs these days…”
Zhou Luoyang said, “I have a Master’s.”
“Oh!” Yu Jianqiang was a little surprised again. As their food was being served, Zhou Luoyang said, “Originally, I’d wanted to take over my grandpa’s shop, but business these past few years has only been so-so, and now we’ve racked up quite a bit of debt. We had no choice but to close up shop for the time being and figure something out. I hope we’ll have a chance to reopen in the future.”
Yu Jianqiang nodded in sympathy. “What kind of shop?”
“Clocks and antiques,” Zhou Luoyang replied after a moment of contemplation.
“How much is the debt?”
“Over six million.”
A question, an answer. Zhou Luoyang’s tone was very laid-back, as if they were discussing someone else’s affairs. Yu Jianqiang brought out a bottle of red wine, and Zhou Luoyang hurried to his feet to take it so that he could pour for them. Yu Jianqiang watched this kid and automatically went along with it.
“Can you drink? If you can, drink a little with me.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t ask him whether or not he was driving; he assumed he had a chauffeur or could hire someone to drive for him. He nodded and poured the wine.
Yu Jianqiang said, “When I was your age, I was still learning how to do business from my big brother in the trade. I came from nothing. You could probably say my life has been filled with twists and turns…”
After they’d drunk a bit of red wine, Zhou Luoyang sensed that Yu Jianqiang was a little bit domineering and not very suitable for his needs. Or rather, Zhou Luoyang hadn’t held very high hopes for today’s meeting to begin with. He understood what the person who’d introduced them had meant: Yu Jianqiang could solve his most pressing financial problems and help him get through these most challenging times.
And after that? Zhou Luoyang wasn’t sure either.
Flushed from the wine, Yu Jianqiang wouldn’t stop talking. He prattled on and on to Zhou Luoyang about how he’d built himself up from nothing. Like an interviewer, he kept interrogating Zhou Luoyang, mostly about his plans for the future. Finally, he lit a cigarette. Smoke curled around the room. With his cigarette dangling between his fingers, he tapped at Zhou Luoyang with his middle finger.
“Let big brother get to the point,” Yu Jianqiang said. “My words don’t sound so pretty—that’s just the kind of person I am, so don’t take offense, little brother.”
Zhou Luoyang coughed and forced a smile. “How could I?”
Yu Jianqiang said, “You’re probably quite in need of money at the moment, right?”
Zhou Luoyang earnestly agreed, “Yeah, I don’t even know how I’ll scrounge up the funds to cover my living expenses next month.”
Yu Jianqiang said, “Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground—be realistic. Don’t think about the shop your grandpa left behind anymore. The proper thing to do is to look for a job.”
Zhou Luoyang nodded, and Yu Jianqiang said, “You academics are all haughty. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to say so, but I found you quite spirited at first sight. All full of smiles, with a good and honest character, and ignorant of society’s ruthlessness.”
“Ah…” Zhou Luoyang trailed off.
Yu Jianqiang continued, “I know you’d feel awkward bringing it up first, so I will instead. I’ll give you twelve thousand a month, and you can rent a place. In my free time I’ll come to you, two or three times a week.”
Zhou Luoyang thought to himself, Looks like he means to keep me for twelve thousand a month. How did my search for a business partner turn into a blind date halfway through? When I get back, I’ll have to beat up the guy who set us up.
But he had very good self-restraint and didn’t immediately get up and leave.
After mulling it over for a beat, Zhou Luoyang asked sweetly, “Gege, will I be on top or bottom?”
Yu Jianqiang: “……”
“If I’m on the bottom,” Zhou Luoyang said, to be difficult, “twelve thousand a month seems a bit low.”
This wasn’t the first time Yu Jianqiang had used money to humiliate someone, but Zhou Luoyang was the first to haggle with him. He was rendered speechless on the spot. He stared blankly for a moment before suddenly bursting into hearty laughter. “You’re pretty amusing, little guy.”
Zhou Luoyang said with feigned curiosity, “I’m not sure what the current market price is. I remember that undergraduate students got twenty thousand a month last year.”
With a smile, Yu Jianqiang sized Zhou Luoyang up. By now it was clear he was tipsy. He said, “Alright, you drive a hard bargain. How much do you want?”
Zhou Luoyang said resolutely, “I have a Master’s. At the end of the day, you’ve got to add another four thousand.”
Yu Jianqiang could tell that Zhou Luoyang was mocking him, but he wasn’t angry. He said lightly, “Then how about sixteen thousand? Why don’t you think it over?”
From the moment he’d said “twelve thousand,” Zhou Luoyang had known that today’s meeting was a waste of time. But for the sake of courtesy, he smiled and didn’t say anything, though he couldn’t resist a quiet sigh.
Yu Jianqiang called someone over to pay their bill, then called his chauffeur, ready to leave. Just before he left, his competitive nature kicked in, and in the face of a young twenty-something’s mocking smile, his anger wouldn’t dissipate. He couldn’t resist getting in the last word.
“If you want money, earn it yourself,” Yu Jianqiang said casually. “In this world, no one who’s neither your relative nor friend will pay your debts for you. Besides, you aren’t that kind of quality goods.”
“I’m earning money. No need to worry yourself over it. The food’s not finished yet. President Yu, you’re not taking it with you?” Zhou Luoyang said, smiling. “That’s a bit wasteful, isn’t it? You could totally take it home to feed to your dog. What’s the principle behind building yourself up from nothing? It’s to increase revenue and reduce costs, right?”
Yu Jianqiang was at a loss for words.
He wasn’t sure why, but he kind of wanted to hit him.
“President Yu, let’s meet up again some other time!”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t give him that chance. Instead, he pulled the door open and walked out.
Right at the same time, someone else headed in from the other side of the door. Zhou Luoyang was caught off guard and, unable to stop himself in time, abruptly collided into him.
A tall, slender, fair-skinned man was holding the already settled bill. He handed it over to Yu Jianqiang.
Zhou Luoyang immediately apologized, backing up half a step. He stared straight at the male assistant’s face, stunned.
“Pack up the food for him to take home and feed to his dog, then send him home.” Yu Jianqiang didn’t even look at Zhou Luoyang as he passed on these instruction to the male assistant and then brushed past the two of them.
In the small little world left behind in the room, all was quiet.
The man was wearing a well-ironed suit and a pair of sunglasses. He stood by the door. His face was slim, his eyebrows thick and dark. There was a ghastly scar that ran across his cheeks and nose, as if someone had taken a knife to the tall, strong bridge of his nose.
In the lighting of the room, the scar appeared particularly distinct.
“Pack it up to go?” the man asked, his voice deep.
“Du Jing?!” Zhou Luoyang was shocked. He mumbled, “How is it you?”
Zhou Luoyang unconsciously took a half step toward that assistant. He wanted to lift his hand to pull at him, or to pat him. But after lifting his hand up, he stopped. The man didn’t deny his identity. After all, his face was an awfully clear declaration of who he was, and it would be pretty pointless to deny it.
A server came inside to pack up the leftovers. Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing stood there, facing each other. Time seemed to come to a standstill around them.
Then, Zhou Luoyang wanted to reach out and take off Du Jing’s sunglasses. But when Du Jing saw his hand reach up, he took the initiative to take them off first.
“You’re that guy’s assistant?” Zhou Luoyang was stunned stupid. He looked Du Jing up and down and exclaimed, “Surely not!”
Du Jing didn’t reply. He broke eye contact and watched as the server packed the food.
“You have a dog now?” Du Jing suddenly asked.
Zhou Luoyang didn’t answer the question. Instead, he said, “After you quit school, there was no news of you anymore. Where have you been all these years?”
Du Jing took the packed paper bag from the server, put on his sunglasses, pushed open the door, and headed out first. Zhou Luoyang quickly hurried after him. For a moment, countless memories welled up in his mind. As he watched Du Jing’s back, those memories, like shattered fragments, rushed forth once more under the early evening glow of the street lamps.
“Where did you park?” Du Jing asked.
“Want to go somewhere for a couple drinks?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Ever since the two of them had reunited, each had been saying their own thing. Now, finally, Du Jing gave Zhou Luoyang a proper answer.
“No, I’m busy.”
Du Jing stood on the side of the road. He handed the paper bag to Zhou Luoyang, but Zhou Luoyang didn’t take it.
“You can toss it,” he said. “Will you leave me your contact info?”
Du Jing didn’t reply, and Zhou Luoyang didn’t press. He’d known since five years ago that to deal with this guy, you couldn’t simply use the normal methods.
“Then I’ll be going,” Zhou Luoyang said instead. “I hope we can meet again.”
Zhou Luoyang walked over to where he’d left his bike. Only, he couldn’t find it. And after double and triple checking, he could only accept the truth—his bike had most likely been stolen.
Off to the side, Du Jing silently watched as Zhou Luoyang looked for his bike. A moment later, he said, “President Yu told me to send you home.”
Zhou Luoyang said, “No need. I’ll rent a bike.”
But Du Jing had already fished out his phone and said, “Address.”
Zhou Luoyang stood there for a moment, and then told him his address. Du Jing called for a car on his phone.
Zhou Luoyang glanced over at him. On Du Jing’s left wrist was a rubber band.
He reached out to tug at the rubber band, but Du Jing edged away the slightest bit so that Zhou Luoyang wouldn’t touch him.
Wan City was especially hot and stuffy at night. The two of them were standing on the side of the road, and Zhou Luoyang’s shirt was already soaked through with sweat. He glanced at Du Jing, who was in a suit, and asked, “Are you hot? If you are, take off your jacket.”
Du Jing didn’t reply.
“How have you been these past couple years?” Zhou Luoyang asked again. “Still wearing it? Has your illness gotten a little better?”
“I did as you said and tried to get it treated,” Du Jing responded. “I couldn’t. It can’t be treated anymore.”
Zhou Luoyang looked at Du Jing with his brows slightly furrowed. He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. Everything that had happened today combined still couldn’t compare to the suddenness of running into Du Jing again.
“Come over to my house for a bit?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing was unresponsive again. Zhou Luoyang combed through his countless memories: Du Jing’s condition came in intervals. This reaction was exceedingly similar to when they were in school together, when they fought in their dorm—back then, Du Jing would say, “Don’t talk to me. Let me be alone for a while.”
But right now, Zhou Luoyang had finally found him again after a great deal of trouble. How could he not say anything at all?
“I…” Zhou Luoyang thought it over and over again, and finally said, “Du Jing…”
The car arrived. Du Jing opened the door, and Zhou Luoyang took a seat in the car first. He’d initially thought Du Jing would climb in after him—after all, he’d previously said he would “send him home.” He didn’t expect Du Jing to instead close the door behind him.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.