Mentions of a past suicide attempt.
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On the last day of that year, they went to Jingci Temple to listen to the bells and welcome the new year, just as they originally planned.
Vast crowds had formed around the evening bells of Nanping Mountain and outside of Leifeng Pagoda, and the city had dispatched many auxiliary police officers to maintain order. Du Jing held onto Zhou Luoyang’s hand so they wouldn’t be separated in the sea of people.
“Who did you spend last New Year’s with?” Du Jing moved with the crowd, turning back to look at Zhou Luoyang from time to time.
“With my girlfriend, in Huizhou.”
“Are you still together?” asked Du Jing.
“We separated in early spring. She went to study overseas,” Zhou Luoyang explained. “We were going to spend the night at a hotel, but the hotel was fully booked, so I ended up having to send her home. You?”
Zhou Luoyang’s family was from Wan City. Later, for one reason or another, they moved to Huizhou for a long time. And after that, they moved to Jiangnan because of his father’s business. By now he’d become totally southernized.
“I was in Times Square alone,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang had dated many different girls in high school, but nothing ever happened between him and any of them. When he liked them, he really liked them, but after breaking up, he was always quick to get over it.
“This time next year, maybe it’ll be someone else’s turn to be with you.” Du Jing got in line to buy hot coffee and waited with Zhou Luoyang for the bells to chime. All around them were couples, as well as quite a few groups of young singles who’d come together. For some reason, when girls grouped up with other girls, it always seemed so interesting and so natural.
When guys grouped up with other guys to celebrate New Year’s, however, there was the sense of the deep bitterness of being single.
Earnestly, Zhou Luoyang said, “No way, if you don’t mind third wheeling, I’ll invite you anywhere I go. And who knows, maybe I’ll be the third wheel.”
He really did like Du Jing; this wasn’t just empty chatter. Zhou Luoyang had this thing where he would feel thoroughly uncomfortable if he didn’t have anyone to take care of, and he always felt as though there should be someone following behind him. He felt he was a bit chauvinistic in this respect.
“The doctor recommends that I don’t date,” Du Jing replied. “Dating brings pressure, which will make my condition worse. It would only hurt everyone involved.”
“But if you really fell in love, you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, would you?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing nodded. They only managed to buy one cup of hot coffee before it was all sold out. Du Jing handed it to Zhou Luoyang for him to warm his hands. Zhou Luoyang nudged it in his direction, and he drank from the cup that was still in Zhou Luoyang’s hands.
“All I can do is depend on rationality to keep myself under control and do my best to keep a distance from them,” said Du Jing.
They sat somewhere with a good view, far away from the noisy crowd. Jingci Temple, Leifeng Pagoda, and all the lights along the shore of West Lake shone bright and splendid, bringing a lively glow to the cold Hangzhou night.
“You’ve been wanting to ask where the scar on my face came from, haven’t you?”
Zhou Luoyang was still lost in thought. He felt that Du Jing was different tonight. There was an ease between them now, the kind that came from having laid everything bare.
“I really do think it’s handsome,” said Zhou Luoyang. “I’m not just trying to compliment you. It really does appeal to my aesthetic. Did it come from a fight?”
Du Jing shook his head. “No, the reason for it isn’t cool at all. Ever since I was diagnosed at six years old, I’ve been tormented by this disorder. In my teenage years, my bipolar disorder often manifested as depressive episodes. Specifically, I would feel like crying out of nowhere without any warning. Sometimes I even wanted to die for no reason at all.
“When I was seventeen, many of the students in my high school class started dating. But the doctor strongly recommended that I didn’t date, that I control myself and do my best not to fall for anyone, at least until after puberty.
“I don’t know why, but one day when I saw the couples at school, I thought about how I would have to go through this torment for many more years to come. I decided to end everything…”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t interrupt him. He tilted his head back and looked up at the sky. The stars were twinkling.
“…And so on the evening of my birthday, I drove my car to the precipice of a mountain,” Du Jing murmured. “I told myself that if I floored the accelerator and the car made it to the opposite cliff twenty meters away, then that was the heavens’ will, and I would continue to live.”
Zhou Luoyang said nothing.
“If the car fell down the ravine with me in it, then I would be completely freed.”
Even though Du Jing was sitting right next to him, Zhou Luoyang could feel his palms getting sweaty as he listened.
“After that, you were left with this scar,” Zhou Luoyang concluded.
“Right. In the split second the car flew into the air, I felt weird, as if there were a soul…the real, true soul of the lover of my fantasies leaning on my chest, pressing close to my heart. And after I fell down the ravine, a passerby found me and called 911. I was taken to the hospital. They kept calling my name while I was unconscious. When I woke up, I received over seventy stitches, and I ended up bedridden for another three months. But because I was young, I recovered fast.”
It was a miracle that he didn’t break his spine and end up totally paralyzed, Zhou Luoyang thought. He didn’t want to imagine what would’ve happened if Du Jing really did end up paralyzed. That would have truly been miserable.
“It’s inappropriate to say this, but…” Zhou Luoyang deliberated for a long time. He was beginning to wonder if his moral compass had been led astray by Du Jing. But at that moment, he decided to tell the truth.
“But you really are very cool,” he said. “Even cooler than I’d thought.”
To streak across the dusky curtain of the sky, like a shooting star, as a final curtain call to one’s life—that was something that only happened in movies.
For a time, Zhou Luoyang had thought a lot about Du Jing, about his illness, and about his Weibo side account. At first he’d thought that the Weibo side account that no one knew about was only a private space for Du Jing to vent his personal thoughts and feelings, much like a diary. But was that really the case?
Later, he gradually came to believe that this was Du Jing’s cry for help. After all, he completely could have kept it private so that no one else could see it. But the fact that he put it out there meant that he still hoped or dreamed that someone would see it, hoped that someone would lend him a helping hand.
It was just that Du Jing himself wasn’t aware of his true innermost desires, that was all.
“You have to officially promise me,” Zhou Luoyang said, “that you won’t silently go off and do this sort of thing all by yourself again, because we’re friends now.”
“Okay,” Du Jing agreed.
Zhou Luoyang explained, “I’m not saying you should live on with a fake smile pasted on your face. If, one day, your disorder has gotten so bad that you’ve reached the point of no return and even living is suffering, I won’t force you to stay. I’ll respect your decision.”
Du Jing didn’t respond.
“At the very least, we should seriously and courteously bid each other farewell.”
Du Jing was holding the coffee cup in his left hand. He lifted his gloved right hand, and without having to be told, Zhou Luoyang lifted his left hand. As they sat shoulder to shoulder, the two clapped each other’s hands.
He knew that Du Jing had made his promise.
The countdown reached zero—the new year had arrived. They didn’t cheer along with the rest of the crowd; they simply stood up.
Zhou Luoyang spread his arms out toward Du Jing. “Happy New Year. We’re another year older now. Hug?”
Du Jing hugged him. The two of them embraced each other in the cold wind.
That night, after they returned to their dorm, Du Jing’s words were still as sparse as ever. But after everything that had happened that day, they were finally able to truly cross over the barrier that had stood between them up until now. The atmosphere in the room had changed. There was no longer that polite air; instead, it now felt more natural and easygoing.
Zhou Luoyang felt an ambience that he hadn’t felt in a long time, one that was both familiar and peculiar—it was the feeling of being home.
Rainbow string lights twinkled on the little Christmas tree Du Jing had bought for their room, illuminating the little sleeping turtle in the tank.
“You can push your bed up next to mine,” Zhou Luoyang suggested.
Du Jing hadn’t changed his clothes or taken off his shoes. As soon as he entered the room, he’d climbed into bed and began scrolling through his phone. After hearing Zhou Luoyang’s suggestion, he glanced at him. A moment later, he silently got up and pushed his single bed over until it was pressing up against Zhou Luoyang’s.
“Oh wow—” Zhou Luoyang exclaimed. “The bed got bigger! Now it’ll be more comfortable to sleep in it!”
He didn’t know whether the cure to Du Jing’s insomnia was to share a bed with someone or to share a mattress with someone, but it wasn’t strange to see such a setup in guys’ dorms. He would sometimes see the graduate students in the Tingpu building and the other dorms combining their beds as well. Firstly, it was a more economical use of space. The walkway was wider this way, and there was room to put household electrical appliances. Secondly, the beds also became bigger.
Most graduate students dated and often rented apartments outside of their dorms. Those left behind in the dorm rooms liked to do this to the beds. When the students living away from the dorms came back on occasion, the two people would then sleep on the beds that had been pushed together just as if they were sleeping on connected beds.
That night, Zhou Luoyang obliviously took up more than half the bed. Du Jing, in contrast, was very cautious of disturbing Zhou Luoyang and carefully kept to the edge of the bed. But when they woke up on the first day of the new year, they found that Zhou Luoyang had shifted around in his sleep until he was spooning Du Jing from behind.
Just the way Du Jing was holding Zhou Luoyang tightly from behind on the bullet train from Wan City to Hangzhou.
He could still remember that it had snowed in Hangzhou on the first day of the new year. As soon as he woke up, he immediately shook Du Jing awake. He washed up at lightning speed, grabbed his camera, and darted outside to take photos of the snowy scenery at West Lake.
“Wake up! Time to exchange tickets!”
The door opened. The train attendant took in the sight of Du Jing and Zhou Luoyang squeezed together on the bottom bunk. His first reaction was to look up at the top bunk and make sure that there wasn’t an extra stowaway. Zhou Luoyang flipped over, sending Du Jing tumbling off the bed. Scrambling for purchase, Du Jing bumped into the trash can, and then as he got up, he knocked his head on the table.
All three of them: “……”
Zhou Luoyang went up to the wall where Du Jing’s suit was hanging. He fished out their tickets from its pocket and handed it to the attendant. As the attendant left, they both seemed to be able to hear his internal monologue: Gays again. Why are there so many gay people these days?
They were both still bleary-eyed. Du Jing took a seat on the couch. Before he was able to fully shake off the fog of sleep, Lisa Ono’s When Will You Return began to play from the train’s speakers. Outside, the sun was rising. Their train had just arrived at the stop, and all of Hangzhou had yet to awaken.
“After we part ways tonight, when will you return…” After washing up, Zhou Luoyang lowered his head to check Du Jing’s trousers. Fortunately, his worries had not come true.
“Eat, fill our stomachs, work. You probably aren’t in a hurry to get back to Wan City,” said Du Jing.
Zhou Luoyang started replying to Leyao’s texts from the previous night. He looked at a picture Leyao sent and said, “I’m not in a hurry. I’m just worried Leyao might suddenly need to send me some stuff.”
“My assistant can take care of anything that comes up. I already had him send everything to your home yesterday.”
“He doesn’t have a key,” Zhou Luoyang said. “How did get in? Did he just leave the stuff at the door?”
“Would my underling need a key to enter a home? You’re underestimating Boss Du.”
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
“I also had him clean your home while he was at it,” Du Jing added.
Zhou Luoyang: “………………”
Du Jing hailed a taxi, and they headed to the In77 shopping plaza. Along the way, he sent a couple of texts. Once a mobile service provider opened for business, its manager came out to receive them and brought them inside his office. He took out a SIM card and installed it for Du Jing. Du Jing had switched out the card in Wu Xingping’s phone for a local Hangzhou card.
When they got to the western restaurant of the Xinxin Hotel and began to eat breakfast, Du Jing registered for a new WeChat account.
“Wait just a moment.” Du Jing was fiddling with the phone and did not raise his head. “After I finish up with this, we can go walk around.”
“We’ve walked around this area for so many years already, what else is there to see? Focus on your investigation. No need to worry about me. Work hard, so after you get paid you can invest in my shop. I’m still short five million, three hundred thirty-seven thousand, six hundred bucks as of now.”
Evidently, he had already taken into account Du Jing’s more than 600,000 dollars of property in his calculations.
“So I’ll own all of the shares?” Du Jing asked. “Not a bad proposal.”
“So can you be a little more frugal? Breakfast at Xinxin Hotel costs two hundred sixty-eight per person.”
“I can apply for reimbursement.”
“Family members’ expenses can’t be reimbursed, you said so yourself.”
“We can just pretend it’s for my assistant. The company won’t pay such close attention to these things; the only things that can’t be reimbursed are things like train tickets, which you use your real name to purchase. Eat more, you’re skinnier than before.”
Zhou Luoyang silently went back to his food.
“Don’t you want to visit the school again?” Du Jing asked.
Now that Du Jing mentioned it, Zhou Luoyang did actually kind of want to go back to visit. This was his first time back in Hangzhou since he’d graduated.
Du Jing used his new WeChat to add those two accounts. He compared them for a moment and sent them a “1” to test the waters. Then he used his own phone to make a call. In the meantime, he surveyed their surroundings, on the lookout for any suspicious people.
He and Zhou Luoyang were the only people in a large stretch of the breakfast restaurant.
“I need a body double,” Du Jing said into his phone. “Could I trouble you to contact the local branch?”
Zhou Luoyang looked at Du Jing in confusion. Du Jing didn’t offer any explanation, but he stuffed the other Bluetooth earpiece in his ear. What he meant was: Aren’t you curious? You can listen for yourself, then.
It was a woman on the other end. She asked, “What kind of body double?”
“Male, about nineteen to twenty-two years old, one hundred and seventy-eight centimeters,” said Du Jing. “Northeast Asian.”
“Alright. The location will be sent to your work WeChat account shortly,” she informed him. “You and the other party can deliberate over the particulars between yourselves.”
“Thank you for your assistance,” Du Jing said expressionlessly. He hung up and began to eat the food Zhou Luoyang had brought over for him. Just then, he received a reply on WeChat.
Where are you?
Who is this? Du Jing sent back. Then he stopped paying it any attention.
“What are you doing?” Zhou Luoyang asked. “You’re cosplaying Wu Xingping, right?”
“Mhm.” Du Jing confirmed Zhou Luoyang’s conjecture. Wu Xingping had fled, but this affair wasn’t over yet. After the ringleader fell to his death, the only person left who had been involved was Wu Xingping. At present, the informers would have to find Wu Xingping as soon as possible and either ensure his safety or silence him permanently in order to avoid getting implicated in any more trouble.
After all, the extortion chain behind this affair, as well as the whole web of relationships and leads involved, was the lucrative job of the year for the organized crime department. To crack down on such an enormous organization that worked both domestically and internationally would surely mean an impressive year-end performance review. Perhaps they might even be commended for being an exemplary team or individual employee.
So Du Jing kept track of the contact information. If he were Wu Xingping and on the run, it would be a very reasonable move for him to abandon his original WeChat, get a new card, and add the other party again.
“But if you added them, how can they be sure this unknown account belongs to the person they’re looking for?”
“Because they’re also using a ghost account. They’ve only ever sent a friend request to Wu Xingping, so there’s no chance anyone would add them by mistake,” Du Jing explained.
Du Jing’s expression clearly said: Isn’t it obvious that they would do this? Zhou Luoyang could only nod. Then he asked, “Are you planning on meeting them in Hangzhou? But we already let Wu—we already let him leave.”
“You let him leave,” Du Jing corrected, “not us. Back on the train, you said, ‘Let him leave.’ Did you forget after a night’s sleep?”
“I just meant to let him return next door so he could sleep.”
Du Jing didn’t respond. He studied Zhou Luoyang’s face carefully, as if he were planning some mischief.
“Well, what now? They’ll figure it out as soon as they see you, won’t they? Who would meet up with their target without even knowing what their target looks like? That would just be stupid,” Zhou Luoyang pointed out.
“Well, looks like you’ll have to disguise yourself as him then. Whoever hung the bell on the tiger’s neck must untie it.”
Zhou Luoyang thought back to Du Jing’s phone call—he’d mentioned needing a body double. Immediately, he saw the light.
“You’re messing with me again,” Zhou Luoyang accused, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “You’re planning on hooking them and reeling them in, here in Hangzhou?”
“Fishing isn’t allowed at West Lake,” said Du Jing.
At first, Zhou Luoyang wanted to ask why Du Jing would choose to reel in the backstage masterminds in Hangzhou of all places. But Du Jing was always being roundabout and clowning around in mock seriousness, making it so that he really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Recently, the company has been promoting outdoor work. The fresh air is good for one’s health.” Finally, Du Jing stopped teasing him and explained, “Hangzhou is a fitting location. If it were Wan City, they would be on high alert, which would be inconvenient.”
A location was sent to Du Jing’s phone. He glanced at it. “We aren’t under surveillance inside Xinxin Hotel, but that won’t necessarily be the case once we leave. Be careful.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t ask why. He tactfully nodded.
The GPS location guided them to Hangzhou’s Silk City. He was dazzled by the sprawling vendor’s stands. Du Jing, on the other hand, vigilantly checked to make sure they weren’t being followed, but that soon proved unnecessary. No one would have expected them to arrive in Hangzhou overnight.
Du Jing entered a silk clothing store. He tapped his fingers on the counter, and the proprietors, a husband and wife around sixty or so, turned to look at them at the same time.
“Are you still selling the item I bought last time, the black outer garment with gold embroidery?” Du Jing asked.
“Yes,” said the proprietress. “We have a lot in the back. Come in and take a look.”
The proprietress pushed open a door to the back of the store. In front of them was another door. They made their way through a sea of outer garments that were either hung up or stacked in piles as high as mountains. Most of them were in styles suited for middle-aged or elderly people. There were also quite a few headscarves, the kind aunties wore when taking pictures, for thirteen bucks each, wholesale.
Zhou Luoyang had studied for many years at the university behind the botanical garden, yet he’d never visited Silk City. He felt like he was seeing an entirely new side of Hangzhou.
They went inside another door that led to a relatively spacious room. A young man who looked to be just over twenty was sitting on top of a couple of leather trunks and playing games on his phone. When he saw them, he nodded and said, “Let me take a look at his picture. What time?”
“Tomorrow evening,” Du Jing answered, pulling up a few photos of Wu Xingping on his phone. The man used his own phone to take several pictures of them and then set his phone to the side.
“Where?” The man put on a pair of gloves. “Ma, pour them some water.”
The old woman brought them some water.
“I haven’t decided,” Du Jing said. He asked Zhou Luoyang, “Where do you want to go tomorrow?”
“Uh.” Zhou Luoyang wondered, Why are you asking me? What, are you going to plan it at our alma mater? He thought for a moment and offhandedly suggested, “Leifeng Pagoda?”
“Got it.” With practiced ease, the man started to put on his disguise, working off of Wu Xingping’s photograph.
First, he pulled out a latex mask and put it over his face, smoothing out the edges. Then, he opened a box that contained a soft, moldable paste and stuck it to his face. He studied the photograph and molded himself a nose and chin accordingly.
Zhou Luoyang was completely stunned, but this was nothing out of the ordinary for Du Jing. He sat down off to the side. There was only one chair.
“My ma’s old now, and her ears aren’t what they used to be,” the man said. “You can grab yourself a chair from outside.”
“No need.” Du Jing patted his thigh, and Zhou Luoyang sat down in his lap. Du Jing looped his left hand around Zhou Luoyang’s waist, and with his right hand, he used “Wu Xingping’s” newly registered WeChat to message the extortionists that had come knocking on their door.
“You two a couple?” the man asked, sizing them up in the mirror as he applied his makeup.
“Yes,” Zhou Luoyang answered.
“No,” Du Jing answered.
The man: “……”
“He’s my assistant. He’s trying to use his charms to climb up the ranks,” Du Jing said.
“Actually, I’m just shamelessly pursuing this uninterested party,” Zhou Luoyang said.
The man burst into laughter and continued applying makeup. Zhou Luoyang watched as Du Jing sent out the messages. The extortionists started a voice call, but Du Jing hung up.
Now isn’t a good time, Du Jing texted them instead.
Where are you hiding now? The other part clearly wanted to know what had happened with the murder case as well.
That night, was there anyone else present aside from you three?
Du Jing paused briefly. After some deliberation, he replied, I need money. Right now I’m penniless and I can’t go anywhere. The cops are looking everywhere for me. If they take me away, I’m fucked!
They replied, Wait for me in Hangzhou. We’ll send someone over.
Du Jing noticed Zhou Luoyang watching him, and he held out the phone to him. He raised an eyebrow, as if to say, Want to play? Then I’ll let you play.
Zhou Luoyang waved his hand. He really didn’t want to say the wrong thing and cause the other party to put their guard up.
Send someone to kill me? Du Jing sent another text, his tone becoming more serious. Worst comes to worst, the fight will end in mutual destruction! No one will make it out alive!
They tried to start another voice call, but Du Jing hung up again, giving them the cold shoulder. The man soon finished getting into disguise. He turned around and asked, “How is it?”
When Zhou Luoyang looked up, he was startled—he thought he was seeing Wu Xingping again. “Wu Xingping’s” hands were covered in clay. He looked back at them and held up his phone so they could compare him with the person in the photograph.
Zhou Luoyang thought Du Jing was going to stand up to deliver his opinion, but just as he was about to get up, Du Jing’s arm tightened around him, securing him firmly in his lap. Du Jing lifted his head and gave the man a quick glance, then went back to looking at his phone. He offered a minor suggestion: “The Adam’s apple is a little too prominent.”
“I haven’t started working on my neck yet,” the man said. “What else?”
“Make the eyebrows a little higher and it’ll be just about right.” Du Jing thought for a moment and then used “Wu Xingping’s” new WeChat to add that other person. “Let me borrow a couple sheets of paper.”
The man got him some paper. Du Jing scrawled several lines of text with his left hand, using Zhou Luoyang’s back as a flat surface. He handed the papers back to the man. “Leave these in a couple spots—I’ll send you the locations in a moment.”
The man took the papers, and Du Jing then said, “Let’s go.”
In the afternoon, Du Jing put away the phone and went with Zhou Luoyang back to their alma mater and toured the campus. The professors’ dining hall, the dorm building, and the lakeside were exactly the same as before. Time was frozen here, and so were the memories. Even if people came and went, even as old people left and new people arrived, the moment Zhou Luoyang stepped on campus, he felt as if he’d returned to the life he had several years ago.
“Do you remember the time travel from that day?” Du Jing suddenly asked.
Zhou Luoyang had already half convinced himself that that had been a delusion. Now, being asked about it like this, he was suddenly at a loss.
“If we were able to return to the past while retaining our memories,” Du Jing continued, “what day would you return to?”
“I don’t want to go back to the past. The present is pretty good as it is,” Zhou Luoyang said.
But Zhou Luoyang suddenly remembered that if he could change the past, he would at least have to go back and prevent Leyao’s car accident from happening.
“I guess I would go back to the day we met,” Zhou Luoyang amended. “What about you?”
Du Jing didn’t answer. They ate lunch in the dining hall and walked to their old dorm building afterwards, standing below it and looking up.
“I wonder if Little Cow is still alive,” Du Jing said.
“Turtles are very tenacious. They won’t die so easily.”
When Zhou Luoyang had graduated, he’d given it to a female junior of his. He was sure that his junior would take good care of it.
They sat down on a bench outside the dorm building. Zhou Luoyang took out his phone to message Leyao back.
The autumn sunlight was warm and gentle on the eyes. Du Jing lay down, resting his head on Zhou Luoyang’s lap. He let his leg dangle off the side of the bench, with his foot in the grass. The two of them basked in the sun idly, just like they used to.
Du Jing dozed off. When Zhou Luoyang was by his side, he always slept very well.
Sometimes Zhou Luoyang thought that the two of them really were just like a gay couple.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.