Editor(s): grape seed
Brief suicidal ideation at the end of the chapter
Leyao was startled to see his brother and Du Jing coming back together with breakfast.
“What were you doing?” Leyao asked. “Why are you so dirty?”
Zhou Luoyang said, “I told you to go to sleep. Why are you still awake?”
Du Jing set his mud-stained suit jacket on the floor next to the shoe rack and nodded at Leyao.
“I was worried,” Leyao said stubbornly as he followed Zhou Luoyang into the kitchen. Zhou Luoyang opened the fridge and popped open a can of juice, downing half of it before passing it to Du Jing.
Du Jing was very careful not to make a mess of Zhou Luoyang’s home. He took off his muddy socks and stood barefoot on the wooden floorboards as he drank the juice.
Zhou Luoyang first took off his shirt, then wheeled his brother into the bathroom for a shower.
“Nothing’s wrong, is there?” Leyao asked, worried. “I could tell something was off with you ever since you came back in the afternoon.”
Zhou Luoyang snapped out of it and pulled the shower curtains closed. “Nothing’s wrong. That was Du Jing, my college roommate.”
Leyao asked, “Was he the one you went out to meet up with yesterday?”
Du Jing opened the bathroom door and came inside, also shirtless. He tossed his shirt into the laundry basket, undid his belt, and started to take a piss.
“Yes,” Du Jing said over the sound of water. “We’re planning on reopening your grandpa’s store together.”
Leyao was hidden behind the curtains. At first Zhou Luoyang wanted to remind Du Jing to be mindful of him, but then he remembered that this was how it had always been in their dorm—he would be showering in the bathroom, and Du Jing would come right inside to use the toilet. He never hid from him.
Leyao said, “Someone called today—”
“Next time just hang up,” Zhou Luoyang said.
Leyao began laughing. How had his brother guessed what he was going to say? But Du Jing whistled and asked Leyao, “Was there a caller ID?”
Leyao didn’t reply. He hadn’t yet figured out how to interact with this new friend who’d barged in to his life.
“Gonna use your towel and razor,” Du Jing said.
“Go ahead,” Zhou Luoyang replied. “Use the brown one. There are new toothbrushes in the cabinet. You’re not showering?”
“I’ll shower if you wash my back for me,” Du Jing said as he shaved and washed his face.
Zhou Luoyang didn’t respond to that, and Du Jing left the bathroom to look through the call records on Zhou Luoyang’s home phone.
“Are you two very close?” Leyao asked.
“Yeah,” Zhou Luoyang said. “We lived together for two years in our college dorm. We used to tell each other everything.”
Leyao said, “I can tell. Are you closer with him than Fang Zhou?”
Fang Zhou was Zhou Luoyang’s good friend.
Zhou Luoyang suddenly remembered something and started to laugh. Confused, Leyao asked, “What are you laughing for?”
“Nothing. Yeah, I’m closer to him.” Zhou Luoyang had remembered the time Fang Zhou had asked him, “How close are you with Du Jing?” And Zhou Luoyang had joked, “So close we can jerk each other off.”
Leyao stuck his head out from behind the curtain.
“The school’s probably emailed, right?” Zhou Luoyang asked. “I’ll reply to them in a bit.”
“Yeah.” Leyao yawned. He was clearly very sleepy already.
Zhou Luoyang wiped Leyao’s hair dry. After getting him dressed, he carried him out and set him down at the table. Du Jing darted into the bathroom.
“Me first.” Zhou Luoyang went in too. “You keep Leyao company.”
“Together?” Du Jing looked up at the showerhead and twisted it a couple times.
“Don’t mess around,” Zhou Luoyang said.
So Du Jing went out again to keep Leyao company. After Zhou Luoyang washed up, he came out to see the two of them already in a conversation, just like last time. He herded Du Jing into the shower and picked out one of his own T-shirts for him to change into. The shirt was a little small, but Du Jing would have to manage.
Before breakfast, Du Jing poured himself a cup of water. He dumped out several pills from his pill box and took them one by one while Leyao watched.
“Are you sick?” Leyao asked.
“Yeah,” Du Jing replied, not dodging his question.
Zhou Luoyang was cleaning up after breakfast when he heard Du Jing ask Leyao, “Why don’t I carry you to your bed? Which one’s your room?”
“I got it.” Leyao wanted to get into his wheelchair.
But Du Jing lifted him up, and Leyao could only say, “Thank you.”
As Zhou Luoyang put away the trash and Du Jing carried Leyao away, he heard Du Jing telling Leyao, “Luoyang’s little brother is my little brother. Don’t mention it.”
Zhou Luoyang went silent and still in the kitchen. He gently pinched the bridge of his nose. Tears brimmed at the corners of his eyes and threatened to spill out against his wishes.
When he went into his room, Du Jing was already laying in his bed and rifling through Zhou Luoyang’s drawers. He took out a picture of the two of them from when they were in college.
Zhou Luoyang walked forward and kicked the drawer shut. In that split second, Du Jing snatched his hand back so that it wouldn’t get crushed. The drawer made a muffled slamming sound.
Du Jing: “……”
Zhou Luoyang watched Du Jing, who shuffled to one side, indicating for him to sleep on the inside.
“Scooch in,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“You sleep on the inside,” Du Jing replied. “That’s how we slept in the dorms. Don’t argue.”
So Zhou Luoyang could only climb over Du Jing. Du Jing stretched out his arm in an offer.
“Nah.” Zhou Luoyang knew he was asking him if he wanted to use his arm as a pillow. “Sleep. You must be very tired.”
Du Jing suddenly sounded exhausted. “Yeah, I haven’t had a single good night’s sleep in three years.”
Zhou Luoyang glanced at his phone. “Make your little roommate sleep with you.”
Du Jing didn’t hear. He was already asleep.
Zhou Luoyang, however, couldn’t fall asleep. He hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep in a long time either, but Du Jing’s reappearance, followed by the many secrets he kept hidden, were for a moment like howling winds and heavy rain, wreaking havoc on his entire world.
Just like the typhoon that day they met.
What on earth was he? Interpol? A detective? A secret agent? Someone working for some national public security bureau? Where exactly had he gone these three years? What happened?
Zhou Luoyang could remember the one and only time they’d talked about what they wanted to do after graduating.
Du Jing had said, “I haven’t decided yet. What about you?”
“I don’t know.”
That day, Zhou Luoyang had dragged Du Jing to a mental wellness class with him. That class was about how to achieve self-worth in life.
It was a rainy day. Outside the windows of the large, multi-purpose classroom, droplets of rain slowly snaked down the glass and converged into streams, like the trajectory of peoples’ fates down the long river of time—sometimes meeting, then splitting and going their separate ways after trickling past a bump.
Just like the rainy day when he and Du Jing met again many years later. Zhou Luoyang hadn’t known then who he would be in the future, hadn’t known he would be facing his father’s death and his brother’s paralysis in quick succession. Overnight, his life would be turned completely upside down.
“My grandpa has a store,” Zhou Luoyang said. “He’s always wanted me to take over it, but I don’t want to be a store manager.”
“What kind of store?” Du Jing asked.
“Antiques and clocks,” Zhou Luoyang answered. “But if I don’t have any other goals, maybe I will just go back and be a store manager. After all, you’ve got to have a job.”
Du Jing very rarely spoke about himself, and Zhou Luoyang didn’t ask. They were just like most ordinary roommates—they ate together at the dining hall come lunch and dinner, they sat next to each other in shared classes, and when they returned to their dorm room in the evenings, they each studied on their own, listened to music, or read a book. Once Zhou Luoyang was tired, he would check with Du Jing. Du Jing always nodded; he never went against Zhou Luoyang. Then they would turn off the lights and go to sleep.
They were honestly the perfect match as roommates. At first, Zhou Luoyang thought Du Jing was a little bit too quiet, but he soon realized that coming across this roommate was in fact the luckiest turn of fate. Neither of them liked to stay up late, quarreled over cleaning, or made any noise while the other was sleeping. They could understand and coordinate with each other’s daily schedules, and for men, they were both pretty clean.
They didn’t even need to put up bed curtains. Whenever they wanted to turn on the AC, they would. And they didn’t really mind the electric or water bills.
Neither of them would yell or holler while gaming, and neither of them had girlfriends, so they didn’t need to make constant video or phone calls. In their spare time they read books, went online, listened to music, or watched movies.
Of all the roommates Zhou Luoyang had ever had, Du Jing had the most respect for personal space. And when they interacted, there was no trace of awkwardness between them, as if their dorm was their own tiny, separate world.
Zhou Luoyang knew that Du Jing had caused quite a bit of discussion concerning his personality, his family background, and the scar on his face.
Whenever he was in a class for his major, Du Jing was always sitting alone in a corner in the row farthest back, deliberately maintaining a distance from his classmates. He never went to group outings, and he rarely chatted with other people, unless he had to.
He didn’t really like to interact with other people. Zhou Luoyang could understand that. For some people, a friend was someone contained within a very, very limited sphere that couldn’t hold very many people. But those who won their approval got to see the true side of them.
On only their third day together, Zhou Luoyang had accepted Du Jing, whereas it took Du Jing nearly a month and a half to accept Zhou Luoyang back.
Zhou Luoyang had never really liked interacting with too many people; he always found it exhausting. But ever since he was small, everyone told him that social interaction was necessary. Without social interaction, life was incomplete. So for many years he forced himself to give it his all, but after meeting Du Jing, he gradually came to realize that he could still survive just fine with decreased social interaction. In fact, it even allowed him to feel more at ease. What could he have against that?
So he began to learn from Du Jing, deliberately downsizing his social circle and only investing his energy in things that truly interested him. Suddenly, he felt so much more relaxed.
“I want a job that’s challenging,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Like what? Exploring Mars?”
Du Jing didn’t reply. At the podium, the professor was discussing love and family and was working very hard to impart the “proper” concepts of love and life to these college students.
“Have you ever had a girlfriend?” Zhou Luoyang was a little bit curious.
“No.” Du Jing shook himself out of his stupor. “What about you?”
Their conversations were always very polite, almost ceremoniously so. But Zhou Luoyang knew that this was the true Du Jing.
“I have,” Zhou Luoyang said, “but we were never sexually intimate.”
Du Jing nodded. Smiling, Zhou Luoyang said, “Everyone says I’m like a central heating unit.”
Zhou Luoyang had had a number girlfriends before. He’d always been very warm to others and had been good at taking care of people ever since he was little, and he’d had many friends in middle school. It was precisely because of this that he’d incurred quite a few complaints.
This was the first time Zhou Luoyang had discussed love with Du Jing. Sometimes Zhou Luoyang was a little bit curious—hadn’t Du Jing ever watched adult films? At least in the more than a month’s time that they’d known each other, Zhou Luoyang had never heard Du Jing pull up those sorts of videos. Of course, although he himself didn’t have very many saved to his computer, guys always have some saved.
“Do you watch these?” Zhou Luoyang shared one with Du Jing. Du Jing politely watched a little of it and nodded.
Zhou Luoyang was confused.
This reaction obviously did not abide by common sense.
“I’ll send you some?” Zhou Luoyang said.
“Okay,” Du Jing replied.
“You…” Zhou Luoyang took a glimpse at a certain part of Du Jing’s body. “Doesn’t it make you feel anything?”
“We’re in class,” Du Jing reminded him. “Did you want to do something in the last row? Do you need me to cover you?”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
When they got out of class, they ate lunch in the professors’ dining hall. This dining hall was very close to their dorm building, and students rarely frequented it. Zhou Luoyang went to grab food, bringing a bottle of water with him on the way back.
Over the past couple of days, Du Jing had been wan and unspirited. He stared off into space while waiting for Zhou Luoyang.
“Have you not taken your meds today?” Zhou Luoyang reminded him.
Du Jing started in surprise. He’d been woken up by Zhou Luoyang that morning and had momentarily forgotten about them. Over the past several months, Zhou Luoyang would occasionally catch sight of him waking up early to take his meds, but he never asked what illness he had, and Du Jing never said.
“I didn’t bring my pill box,” Du Jing said, a little unnaturally. “I’ll figure it out after we get back.”
Zhou Luoyang took out the pill box from his bag—he’d grabbed it for him on the way out this morning; he’d just temporarily forgotten about it. Now he finally remembered.
Du Jing nodded and took his meds, and the two of them ate their lunch as if nothing had happened.
“What illness do you have?” Zhou Luoyang finally asked.
Du Jing glanced at Zhou Luoyang, and Zhou Luoyang hurriedly explained, “I’m not asking out of curiosity, I just think…hm, if something happens, I might need to call for a doctor since the two of us are always together. I’d be more helpful when they ask questions if I knew. If you trust me, you can tell me about it, just as a precaution.”
Zhou Luoyang was telling the truth. He knew Du Jing didn’t want to talk about it, but if his roommate had a heart problem or some other congenital illness, he would have to immediately take him to a doctor if it acted up. If Du Jing lost consciousness, and he, as his roommate, was unable to answer any questions, it’d seem very apathetic of him.
“There won’t be any of the concerns you’re thinking of,” Du Jing replied simply.
Zhou Luoyang wasn’t reassured, but he nodded anyway. “That’s good then.”
But not long after, a sudden, unexpected incident exposed Du Jing’s secret to Zhou Luoyang with absolutely no warning or reservation—and it happened because Du Jing was still using Zhou Luoyang’s Apple ID.
About two months prior, Zhou Luoyang had given Du Jing his account details, and Du Jing used it to download some apps. He’d forgotten to log out after that, and given that they were using the same wi-fi and their devices were under the same account, it had assumed they were the same person. If they used Safari on their phone and then went onto their computer, the webpage currently open on the phone would automatically pop up.
That day, Du Jing was in class while his phone was charging in the dorm. Zhou Luoyang was going to look something up, when suddenly a webpage popped up on his computer. It was the page of a Weibo side account.
Zhou Luoyang thought it was his own profile, so he opened it up, and the first thing he saw was:
[I want to be alive less and less. If it weren’t for the fact that killing myself in the dorm would cause him trouble, I’d just want to end all my problems. Not sure how long I can keep going.]
Zhou Luoyang was instantly alarmed. Whose Weibo is this? Did I post while asleep last night?
It had been posted last night at 4:47.
Zhou Luoyang gently swiped the touch screen with two fingers and scrolled to a second post.
[Sometimes I feel like the king of the world, but sometimes I feel like a beggar. Today I barely said ten sentences to him. I could tell he didn’t really like me disturbing him and just wanted to read quietly.]
The second day’s post was from the day before yesterday at a little past three in the morning.
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
The third: [Today we went to watch a movie, a trash one. But the popcorn tasted pretty good and dispelled a lot of my worries. The movie made no sense, but he didn’t notice, or maybe he did and just didn’t say anything about it so as not to dampen the mood.]
The fourth: [Twitchy. Uneasy. A new episode is coming, probably. From now on, I need to control myself.]
[It’s all stuff that can be learned in only a year, and yet I still have to go to class and pay attention every single day. How pointless. But if I don’t go to class, what else is there to do?]
[Future? There’s no future, and there’s no past, either. Dating only hurts others and yourself. You need a job, that’s true. Maybe he’ll never understand. Seventh day of insomnia, couldn’t sleep all night, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t sleep…Control yourself. Don’t turn on the light and wake him up.]
Zhou Luoyang looked up from the computer and turned to look at Du Jing’s desk. He could see his own shocked, bewildered eyes reflected in a mirror off to the side. Du Jing’s phone rested quietly on his desk, and Zhou Luoyang understood.
This was Du Jing’s Weibo side account.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.