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Wu Xingping’s answer aligned with Zhou Luoyang’s guess. “Big bro contacted the informer. Boss Mu had already warned us not to take on ATM jobs anymore. He was worried that the ATM machines would get pushed too far, and all of us would be implicated and get busted. So big bro never told anyone about it. He only told me that after we finished the job, we could get ten million. He and I would split it…twenty-eighty.”
Du Jing knitted his brows ever so slightly. His fingers tapped the surface of the table.
“I’m not lying,” Wu Xingping said.
Du Jing asked, “Did you know that Yu Jianqiang was meant to be killed that night?”
“I didn’t. Big bro said we were just going to teach him a lesson.”
Wu Xingping looked utterly exhausted. Ten million. That amount of money was already far more than he could’ve dreamed of. Even if he saved up over many lifetimes, he still wouldn’t have that much. It was enough to convince many people to take a risk out of desperation.
“How could you be sure that the other party would give you the money?” Zhou Luoyang voiced another doubt.
Wu Xingping had worked with his big bro for a long time and knew a little something by now. “This wasn’t the first time. In the past, they’d always kept their word and sent the money.”
Du Jing tapped his finger on the tabletop. Wu Xingping didn’t understand what that meant.
“Phone,” Du Jing said.
Wu Xingping took out his phone and put it on the table.
“Password,” Du Jing said.
Wu Xingping hesitated momentarily, but he told him his password eventually.
“Has anyone added you in the past two days?” Du Jing asked.
“I…turned off my phone. Zong ge specifically reminded me to. He was worried my location could be tracked.”
“Who’s Zong ge?”
“The one with the glasses,” Wu Xingping explained. “He’s the boss’s right hand man.”
“Card,” Du Jing demanded.
Wu Xingping was silent for a good while, and Du Jing clarified, “I want to use your WeChat. The four hundred thousand is yours now. When it’s daytime, get off at any stop.”
Wu Xingping didn’t resist anymore and gave him his SIM card. He even provided a SIM card ejector needle.
“Let him leave,” said Zhou Luoyang.
“Beat it,” Du Jing said at last.
The train continued onward. Zhou Luoyang looked at the card and needle on the table. Du Jing’s long, slender fingers grasped the needle and tried to stick it in the slot. Zhou Luoyang sat down on the couch and took it from him. The card slot sprung out. He pressed the card into Wu Xingping’s phone.
Du Jing fiddled with it for a while. He pressed a button, turned the phone on, and unlocked it. First, he logged into Wu Xingping’s WeChat and looked for new contacts. Two people had added Wu Xingping.
Du Jing used his own phone to take pictures of the two people’s contact pages. Then he turned the phone back off and put away Wu Xingping’s phone and card. Zhou Luoyang yawned.
“Sleepy?” Du Jing asked.
It was nearly one, and Zhou Luoyang was very tired. Du Jing said, “I told you not to come with me on this business trip.”
“I’m a kindhearted person. I didn’t want you to go on a business trip alone, how boring.”
“If you hadn’t come along, I would’ve just gotten off at the next stop, bought a ticket, and headed back.”
“But you were still working overtime all throughout the middle of the night, and you even had to leave for a business trip—you must be in a bad mood. Who knows, maybe you would’ve tossed him off the train. Being tossed off a train into the wilderness in the bitter cold would be nothing short of a death sentence.”
Outside the window, lights flitted past, each illuminating Du Jing and Zhou Luoyang’s faces for only a fleeting moment.
“You’re always like this,” said Du Jing. “You’re very kind. I take back what I said. You haven’t changed.”
Du Jing stretched out his hand as if to touch Zhou Luoyang’s face, or perhaps to rub his head, but he sighed and dropped his hand back to the table.
“How many days’ worth of medicine did you bring?” asked Zhou Luoyang.
“Three days. It’s enough,” Du Jing said. “I don’t want to go back and forth anymore. Let’s talk in the morning. Sleep now.”
“I want to wash up,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“I told you not to eat the snacks.”
Du Jing ended up having to go to the dining car and look for the staff on duty at the snack counter, from whom he bought Zhou Luoyang toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a towel. After a shower, Zhou Luoyang felt rejuvenated. Until now, he’d hadn’t yet gotten used to the northern lifestyle. But this way, it didn’t seem so bad. Maybe in the future he and Du Jing could hit up bath centers from time to time.
He lay on the top bunk, while Du Jing lay on the bottom. Zhou Luoyang stuck his head over the edge to peer down at him and tell him goodnight, but he saw Du Jing laying there on top of his blankets, with his eyes open, still wearing a shirt and trousers. The bunk bed was too short, leaving his legs bent uncomfortably.
“Can’t sleep?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“I’m thinking about the past,” Du Jing replied.
“For you.” Zhou Luoyang passed something down from the top bunk. Du Jing looked up.
It was the watch that Zhou Luoyang had promised to give to Du Jing once he found it a watch strap. Zhou Luoyang had already fitted it with a steel chain.
“To celebrate getting your job,” Zhou Luoyang said lightly. “You found an interesting one. I don’t know what prompted you to get into this line of work, but I figure you must have your own dreams.”
Du Jing reached up and twined his fingers around Zhou Luoyang’s. The watch slid from Zhou Luoyang’s palm down to Du Jing’s wrist. Without even looking, Zhou Luoyang pinched at the watch clasp, and with a gentle click, it was fastened.
It fit just right, as if it were made specifically for him.
“Switch,” Zhou Luoyang said, as he stuck a finger under the rubber band on Du Jing’s wrist and tried to pull it off.
“Wait…” Du Jing pulled his wrist back, but Zhou Luoyang didn’t let go. The rubber band snapped.
The two fell silent. In the darkness, Du Jing asked, “Where did it fall?”
“Don’t look for it,” said Zhou Luoyang. “You don’t need it anymore. It’s already over.”
Du Jing didn’t protest.
He adjusted the watch so that it sat on the inside of his wrist, facing him. He admired the face of the watch under the dim lights. In the twelve-pointed shape, the three squares were staggered and turning slowly. They rotated irregularly during the span of a day, but after their long, slow crawl, the three squares returned to their original positions all at the same time at midnight and at noon, like an indigo rose in bloom.
Du Jing replied, “Thanks. I’ll dedicate my entire life to this dream.”
“This ‘dream’ sometimes might work and sometimes might not,” came Zhou Luoyang’s voice from the top bunk. “It’s way too old, so I didn’t want to take it apart and mess with it too much. You might need to put a little effort into it sometimes.”
“Since I’ve chosen it, I’m bound to put in the effort. Is anyone an exception to the hustle and bustle of the world?”
In the darkness of night, Du Jing’s eyes were glued to the watch, staring as time inched forward little by little. A full half hour passed.
Zhou Luoyang piped up again. “Do you like this gift? Stop looking at it. I’ll sleep with you?”
Du Jing shifted uncomfortably to one side. “It’s too cramped. Don’t force it.”
Zhou Luoyang climbed back down from the top bunk. Du Jing probably hadn’t slept for two days now, if he counted last night.
The beds on the train were very narrow. Du Jing could hardly fit on one by himself, to say nothing of Zhou Luoyang squeezing in beside him. Du Jing pressed close to Zhou Luoyang from behind to avoid falling off.
“How long has it been since you’ve done that?” Zhou Luoyang asked, feeling Du Jing’s reaction.
“Forgot,” Du Jing said. “I can never get good sleep.”
The train slowed to a stop at a platform. The inertia gently pushed Zhou Luoyang toward Du Jing, and Du Jing wrapped his arm around Zhou Luoyang’s waist, holding him.
“You have a kind of androgynous vibe,” Du Jing said. “It’s normal to have a reaction. Even holding a sheep, anyone would have a reaction.”
Zhou Luoyang helplessly said, “I’m just worried that when you fall asleep, your pants…We didn’t bring along a change of clothes, and it won’t be convenient to wash a pair of trousers tomorrow morning.”
Du Jing gave a truthful answer. “Six days ago. I can hold it in for another couple of days, but your concern does make sense. I guess I could take off my pants?”
Zhou Luoyang thought, Wouldn’t that be even more awkward? So he said, “Nah, go to sleep.”
Du Jing wanted to sit up, intending not to sleep anymore, but Zhou Luoyang pressed down on the back of Du Jing’s hand, which was still splayed across his waist.
Du Jing gave up and closed his eyes. Very soon, he fell asleep.
Zhou Luoyang could feel Du Jing’s breath hitting the back of his neck. When he slept, his breathing was very even, and he never snored. Even if he was exhausted from exercising in the daytime, he would still sleep quietly at night, as if he were being very careful not to cause a disturbance.
He always had great posture when sleeping, whereas Zhou Luoyang could shift from the head of the bed to the foot of the bed or from the left side to the right side in the middle of the night. Sometimes he would even fall off the bed.
Zhou Luoyang remembered Du Jing’s body from when they were in the public baths—the excitement that had previously disappeared now reappeared.
The first time he’d seen Du Jing’s body fully naked was when they were still in the dorms. Before that, Zhou Luoyang never felt awkward about seeing the bodies of other men—after all, he’d never felt any sexual desire for other men.
That day, Du Jing was showering. In the middle of his shower, he suddenly hollered from the bathroom, “Luoyang! Luoyang!”
Zhou Luoyang was listening to music at the time, and he didn’t hear Du Jing until after he’d called for him several times. He knocked on the bathroom door and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Du Jing didn’t reply. Afraid that something bad had happened, Zhou Luoyang pushed open the door—it was unlocked. They never locked the bathroom door, as they were the only two people in their dorm.
Du Jing stood under the showerhead. Soap, mixed with the residual water flow, trickled downward along the lines of his slim muscles. His hair was a nest of soap bubbles. He looked dumbly at Zhou Luoyang and said, “The water stopped.”
Du Jing’s first reaction upon realizing that the water had stopped was to call for Zhou Luoyang. Shortly after, he realized that that wasn’t much use—it wasn’t like Zhou Luoyang could create water for him—so he quickly went silent.
But Zhou Luoyang had already come inside. At the sight of his roommate’s body and the way he looked like he was halfway through washing his hair, he abruptly burst into laughter. Du Jing was very incensed. He twisted the shower head a few times and then also began laughing, a bit embarrassed.
Zhou Luoyang quickly realized he shouldn’t be laughing, but to his surprise, he saw Du Jing’s smile for the first time ever.
“I’ll go get you some hot water.” Zhou Luoyang remembered that they had bottled water in their room.
“You don’t need to go to the trouble,” Du Jing said. “Cold is fine. I just need to rinse my hair.”
Zhou Luoyang poured the bottled water into a bucket and added in some hot water. He had Du Jing sit down. “I’ll help you rinse. The water’s a little bit cold.”
Du Jing sat on a stool. Zhou Luoyang rinsed away the bubbles from his body and handed him a towel.
“Thanks.” Du Jing met Zhou Luoyang’s eyes. Zhou Luoyang took a couple of extra glances at him. Du Jing followed his line of sight down toward his own body.
“You’ve got a great body,” Zhou Luoyang said.
He could see two angry scars on Du Jing’s waist and thigh. But his figure was beautiful, well-proportioned, and slim. He had abs, and he wasn’t modest in length either—he was very masculine. Usually everyone had clothes on, so Zhou Luoyang had no idea Du Jing had such a great body.
Zhou Luoyang didn’t stare at Du Jing, though most of the time when he gazed at other men’s bodies, it was on account of an aesthetic unrelated to sexual attraction. Like when he saw men at the gym who’d toned their bodies until they were well-muscled. Zhou Luoyang would sometimes take a second glance at them as well.
“I have a lot of scars,” said Du Jing. “I don’t scare you?”
“I just saw you smiling. You looked very handsome. You should smile more often.”
As Zhou Luoyang spoke, he turned around and left the bathroom.
“Every day you come up with a new way to compliment me.” Du Jing put on a pair of pants and emerged from the bathroom, drying his hair off with a towel. “I’m not as good as you say. Stop flattering me.”
“Your body really is sexy. You have fair skin, wide shoulders, a great waistline, and V-cut abs.” Zhou Luoyang glanced back at Du Jing and explained, “I’m not flattering you. When I watch films I’ll sometimes take notice of male actors’ bodies. What is there to be shy about?”
Du Jing suddenly grew aggravated. “I’m not handsome. Stop complimenting me! I don’t like it! Stop before you go too far!”
“Okay, s-sorry…” Zhou Luoyang hadn’t realized Du Jing was taking it this way. He awkwardly said, “I just kind of…um, envy you.”
“You can practice archery,” Du Jing said, changing the subject. “Join the archery org, and your shoulders will naturally get wider. Your figure is great too, lively and androgynous. Girls really like that. You just need to practice a little bit, but not too much.”
Zhou Luoyang nodded, putting an end to this discussion. But nearly half an hour later, Du Jing suddenly said, “Sorry, Luoyang.”
Zhou Luoyang looked at him questioningly.
“Was my tone of voice a little mean just now?”
Zhou Luoyang hurried to say, “No, no, I always speak without thinking.”
“Sometimes I’m sensitive and I have low self-esteem. Luoyang, you didn’t say that because you felt bad for me, right?” Du Jing asked.
“How could I?” Zhou Luoyang pushed at the desk and spun himself around in the swivel chair to face Du Jing. Earnestly, he said, “Absolutely not. Why would you think that?”
Zhou Luoyang was speaking the truth, but as he spoke he felt the slightest bit guilty.
“You’re a very good person,” Du Jing said with a sigh. “You take me out to have fun when I’m down. I understand that very clearly. Every time I say I’m accompanying you, I understand that you’re the one accompanying me. You want to help me drive away my worries.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Does it really matter who’s accompanying who? Du Jing, every time I suggest going out, it’s because I genuinely want to go. Of course I’d get bored staying at school day after day.”
Du Jing looked up at Zhou Luoyang. In that split second, Zhou Luoyang seemed to sense that there were a lot of things Du Jing wanted to tell him. Maybe things pertaining to his illness, or maybe his scars, but in the end he still retained that tiny bit of hesitation.
Zhou Luoyang interrupted that hesitation. Smiling, he said, “Look at the people in other dorm rooms. They’re the same way, aren’t they? You’ve got to leave some time to relax in between studying. Otherwise, how dull would life be when you’re just studying all day, every day?”
When he was done speaking, Zhou Luoyang turned back to his desk. In order to cover up the tiny bit of guilt he felt, he asked casually, “Speaking of, want to see a movie tomorrow?”
“Sure.” All of a sudden, Du Jing looked like he was at a bit of a loss. “I’ll buy the tickets.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Zhou Luoyang caught sight of Du Jing’s expression in the full-length mirror, and he suddenly felt distressed for this friend of his. He truly wanted to be able to look after Du Jing, to help him get better. Even if he still had to take medication every day, even if he sometimes fell into unfathomable spells of silence, Zhou Luoyang hoped that at least while they were in contact with each other, he could do his best to make Du Jing a little bit happier.
Du Jing was very good to him as well. He had clearly picked up on Zhou Luoyang’s care toward him, and over the last half year, every single time they went out, whatever Du Jing wanted to buy, he was sure to buy an extra one for Zhou Luoyang as well.
Sometimes, Zhou Luoyang couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings. Initially, he would plan on borrowing notes from a classmate, but Du Jing would have already sat in on his class and let him know what was covered. Through their interactions over the last half year, the two of them had already struck up a firm relationship. Most of the time, Zhou Luoyang would raise a suggestion, and Du Jing would never object, always going along with him.
At first Zhou Luoyang would always ask for Du Jing’s opinion, but Du Jing’s response was always, “There’s nowhere in particular I want to go. You?” And so Zhou Luoyang assumed the role of the one that made the decisions between the two of them.
Whenever Du Jing vented on Weibo that he didn’t feel well, Zhou Luoyang would figure out some form of entertainment that could distract him, whether it was to venture outside with him or to occupy him with a task that required deep concentration. So far, he’d found the most success with pottery—in the shopping center’s handmade pottery store, the two grown men could spend an entire afternoon kneading figures out of clay.
If he didn’t give Du Jing’s thoughts the chance to run wild, whether that involved emptying his mind or occupying it completely, perhaps it could alleviate some of his depression.
Two hours later:
“Do you still have insomnia lately?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“It’s been much better,” replied Du Jing.
“Do you sleep better when there’s someone next to you?”
“I’ve noticed that as well.”
“You can push your bed up against mine,” Zhou Luoyang suggested. “The window on your side doesn’t close right; it’s too cold in the wintertime.”
Winter had already arrived without them noticing. All the way from summer to fall and then winter, no one had ever come to fix this window. Zhou Luoyang smacked some tape over it, but it didn’t totally stick right, and cold air would still slip its way inside. And it was easy to bump into the tape whenever they went in and out onto the balcony, knocking against the window. Zhou Luoyang was at the end of his rope.
Du Jing didn’t reply. Zhou Luoyang then asked, “Are you going home for New Year’s?”
Du Jing shook his head.
“I’m not either. Do you have any plans?”
“No,” said Du Jing. “You?”
Once Zhou Luoyang received the answer he’d expected, he said, “Then I’ll come up with plans.”
But not long after, on December 31, something happened that completely changed the relationship between them. It arrived like gales and showers, so abrupt that Zhou Luoyang had no way to prepare.
Du Jing’s illness was exposed because of something very trivial.
beansprout: hellooo here’s some bed sharing fanart from the train scene by Claire Choo!! (i know she captioned it as chapter 17 but the quote and scene are definitely from this chapter lol)
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.