Editor(s): grape seed
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Typically, Zhou Luoyang rarely went out of his way to observe Du Jing. After dinner, they always always had the same routine: each put on headphones and did their own homework, and when they were finished, they would read, watch a movie, or go online. Zhou Luoyang very rarely paid attention to what Du Jing was doing. The Tingpu building’s rooms were two-person dorms, not the four-person dorms that had lofted beds with desks underneath. Their desks were separate from their beds.
The beds were pressed up against the windows. To one side was a standalone wardrobe and cabinet, and a bookshelf. The desks faced away from one another so that most of the time the two of them couldn’t see each other, nor would they look toward each other deliberately.
That night, everything was just as it typically was. At eleven, Zhou Luoyang looked at Du Jing through the full-length mirror and noticed Du Jing sitting quietly and staring blankly at a pull-tab can. The sight made Zhou Luoyang a little worried.
“Time to sleep?” Zhou Luoyang got up to wash up and brush his teeth, and so Du Jing turned off their overhead light, leaving only a desk lamp on.
At 11:20, Zhou Luoyang laid on the bed and flipped over twice, very quietly. He did some research his phone and decided that Du Jing most likely had depression. He’d never come in contact with anyone with depression before, and for a moment he wasn’t sure how to go about interacting with him.
He was taking his meds on time every day, so nothing troubling should happen, right?
At twelve, Zhou Luoyang sighed softly. He suspected that Du Jing hadn’t been able to fall asleep again. He had, after all, mentioned insomnia on his Weibo. That was to say, on all those nights he’d thought Du Jing had fallen asleep, he hadn’t actually. Zhou Luoyang had been the only one sleeping soundly. Du Jing was simply lying there with his eyes open from night till dawn, and also had to be careful not to make any noise in case it woke Zhou Luoyang up.
“Du Jing?” Zhou Luoyang asked quietly.
Several seconds later, Du Jing replied, “Mm.”
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Were you sleeping?”
“Not yet. Why aren’t you sleeping?”
Zhou Luoyang could tell from Du Jing’s voice that he was indeed still awake.
He’d had insomnia before as well, and it was pretty awful the way he was so exhausted yet still couldn’t sleep.
“I had two cups of coffee this afternoon,” Zhou Luoyang said. “I’m done for.”
“When did you drink them?”
“When you were in class. I bought a cup for you too, but I forgot you had back to back classes, so I just drank it all.”
“Well, what now?” Du Jing asked.
“What do you think?” Zhou Luoyang hadn’t actually had any coffee, but he’d decided to keep Du Jing company for a while. Otherwise it’d simply be too painful for Du Jing to lay there until morning.
Du Jing answered in the way he always did. “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
Du Jing turned over. Under the light of the moon, Zhou Luoyang could see how bright Du Jing’s eyes were. At first, he wanted to ask if he wanted to chat, since their dorm was just so odd. Other male roommates would chat with each other for some ten, twenty minutes after lights out, whereas Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing never made the time to do that before going to sleep.
But Zhou Luoyang was worried that Du Jing wouldn’t want to share too much or that he would say the wrong thing.
“Can I turn on the lights?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing switched on a light at his bedside, and Zhou Luoyang turned one on too. Their dorm was lit up once more. In the dead of night, the glow of the two lamps felt as comforting as if a warm, soft blanket were cocooned around them.
Zhou Luoyang changed his mind and said, “I want to read for a little bit. If that’ll disturb you…”
“It won’t,” Du Jing said easily. “I wanted to read too.”
Zhou Luoyang grabbed a novel that he hadn’t finished yet. He extracted the bookmark and glanced at Du Jing. Du Jing was lying in his bed, reading a textbook. With the lights on, it seemed like he’d been freed from a prison of darkness, and he was visibly much more at ease than before.
“Are you self-studying?” Zhou Luoyang asked, not actually concentrated on his book.
Du Jing hummed in assent, and Zhou Luoyang craned his neck for a look. “You’re nearly done studying all the preparatory materials.”
“I don’t have anything to do. If I can finish early, then I’ll be free,” Du Jing replied.
Internally, Zhou Luoyang mulled over what to say. At first he’d wanted to ask, “What are you going to do once you’re free?” But then he thought of Du Jing’s Weibo, and after a moment’s consideration, he teased, “Won’t you leave if you graduate early?”
Du Jing fell silent for a moment, looking up from his book and at Zhou Luoyang, as if considering some request.
“You can apply to graduate early too,” Du Jing said. “Wanna compete with me? See who can finish their studies first?”
“I’m not as smart as you,” Zhou Luoyang said self-deprecatingly, “but I’ll do my best, and after graduation we can take the graduate entrance exam together?”
Zhou Luoyang had only agreed automatically, but Du Jing said, “Alright. We’ll finish undergrad in two years, then take the exam together.”
Zhou Luoyang thought, Let’s not. I’ll die from exhaustion if we do.
The university they attended was nationally renowned, often said to rank in the top three schools—even though top two only consisted of two schools, while top three consisted of countless, in the same way that the seven wonders of the world only consisted of seven wonders, while countless wonders might be considered the eighth. In any case, their campus had plenty of high-IQ students who found studying to be a waste of time and were in a hurry to finish their degree so that they could achieve numerous successes in life that would allow them a feeling of self-worth.
Du Jing was very smart. Zhou Luoyang knew that. He could read a book once and have all of its contents memorized perfectly. Was this something that came with having the depression gene?
Zhou Luoyang had looked it up online that afternoon to make certain of Du Jing’s situation, but he found that Du Jing’s behavior was rather different from what he’d read in the descriptions of the illness.
Zhou Luoyang yawned. He was very sleepy by now, but he forced himself to stay awake. He dimmed his lamp a little bit and began to play on his phone. Du Jing, however, was very perceptive. “Tired?”
“Don’t mind me,” Zhou Luoyang said, immediately putting a stop to Du Jing. “I want to try sleeping with a night light. Maybe I’ll be able to fall asleep, who knows?”
Following Zhou Luoyang’s request, Du Jing’s lamp remained on, and Zhou Luoyang added, “I’m a deep sleeper. You won’t wake me up from making noise.”
“I noticed,” Du Jing replied.
Zhou Luoyang laughed and turned to face the wall. His eyelids felt so heavy, and he soon fell asleep. Du Jing, meanwhile, kept his lamp on all night.
At ten the next morning, when Zhou Luoyang woke up, he found that Du Jing seemed to have managed to fall asleep. And he hadn’t posted on Weibo that morning. Thus, from that night on, Zhou Luoyang took the initiative to adjust his habits for Du Jing. He hadn’t liked to sleep with a light on back at home, and he was quite sensitive to noise, but he decided he could tolerate leaving a light on for Du Jing at night. Anyway, as time passed, he would get used to it.
A few days later, Zhou Luoyang saw another post from Du Jing’s Weibo side account:
[Pointless. Everything’s pointless. The truth to life is absurdity, just like Camus says, and we’re all trapped in the shackles of meaninglessness.]
“I don’t want to go,” Zhou Luoyang told Du Jing. “I’ve decided to skip class today.”
Du Jing was up early taking his meds. After swallowing a handful of pills, he asked, “Where are you going? Are you gonna sleep in the dorm?”
“What am I, a pig? I’ve only just woken up. I want to go out and wander around. Are you coming? If you don’t want to, could you cover my attendance for me?”
Du Jing hesitated, and Zhou Luoyang could tell what he was thinking—he was trying to determine if Zhou Luoyang actually wanted him to check him in in class or if he was geniune about his invitation to wander around together.
“Let’s go, let’s skip and have some fun,” Zhou Luoyang said, pushing the boat with the current. He always got the feeling that Du Jing needed to do something to relax. “There are lots of places you haven’t been to yet.”
“Let’s go.” Du Jing got changed, grabbed a sports bag, and left the school with Zhou Luoyang.
Hangzhou had terrible weather that day. An autumn rain storm was brewing quietly, and the air was static. The people by West Lake all wore distinctly worried expressions; they feared that the water up in the sky might suddenly gush down and turn them into drowned rats.
Zhou Luoyang brought Du Jing to eat lunch at Liulang Wenying Park. Most of the other people around were couples, so the two of them painted kind of a strange picture: two men sitting across from each other and drinking Longjing tea.
If only Du Jing were a pretty girl, Zhou Luoyang thought, I’d be willing to skip class every day, even.
Du Jing seemed to be very at ease. Zhou Luoyang could tell from his mannerisms: he was watching the tourists, and when the tourists looked back at him, he didn’t turn away. He was very nonchalant about the scar on the bridge of his nose.
“I’ll pay,” Du Jing said. “It’s about to rain. Let’s go somewhere else. Is there anywhere else you want to go?”
Zhou Luoyang shook his head. Truth be told, their trip today had been entirely unplanned. At first, he wanted to say, “There isn’t. Should we head back?” But suddenly he thought of what Du Jing might typically say, and he asked in return, “Not for me. You?”
“I want to go somewhere,” Du Jing answered. “Let’s go.”
Du Jing footed the bill and headed to the museum with Zhou Luoyang. There happened to be a special Egyptian exhibit there, and as they strolled through it, Zhou Luoyang thought, Good thing I asked him, otherwise Du Jing would’ve held his tongue and just gone back to campus with me.
After they finished exploring the exhibit, that bout of rain finally began to fall. Thunder cracked and lightning streaked across the sky outside the museum. Rain fell in torrents. Over a hundred visitors were crowded right outside the door, all calling for rides on their phones, temporarily trapping Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing inside. By five, it was as dark as night out.
“I forgot to bring the clothes inside,” Zhou Luoyang remembered. “What do we do?”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s go up front. We’ll figure it out after eating dinner.”
“Hey!” Zhou Luoyang shouted, but Du Jing had already dashed into the rain. All Zhou Luoyang could do was to run out after him. He chased behind him for two blocks. Du Jing spotted Zhou Luoyang ducking under a tree, so he turned around and warned, “Be careful of lightning!” Then he went over and took hold of Zhou Luoyang’s hand, leading him out into the open.
This was Zhou Luoyang’s first time holding hands with a man. Du Jing’s hand was soaked in rainwater, but his palms were scorching hot. When they arrived at their destination, drenched, they began to eat hotpot. As the cold air of the AC circulated through the restaurant, Zhou Luoyang mused that they might catch a cold.
Du Jing’s half-wet hair flopped in front of his eyes, making him look like a confused Old English sheepdog. As he sat across from Zhou Luoyang with his head down, ticking off menu items, Zhou Luoyang suddenly burst into laughter.
“What’s so funny?” Du Jing asked.
“Nothing,” Zhou Luoyang said. “You look pretty handsome like this.”
Du Jing brushed aside the hair hanging in front of his thick eyebrows. Zhou Luoyang had never felt any sort of way about a man’s appearance before, but right at that moment, he suddenly noticed that Du Jing was brimming with masculinity. And on top of that, he had this attractively gloomy manner that meant he would certainly be an Adonis in his department if only he didn’t have that glaring scar.
“I’m disfigured,” Du Jing said. “It’s unattractive. You’re the one that’d be considered handsome. When are you going to get a girlfriend?”
Zhou Luoyang took the menu from him and started ticking off the items he wanted. “It’s the scar that makes you handsome. There’s a sort of damaged beauty to it, like the missing arms of the Venus de Milo. Without it, you’d be handsome in an aloof, untouchable way, but this way you’re more approachable.”
“That’s the kind of person you are,” Du Jing said.
“Me?” Zhou Luoyang was incredulous. “I’m aloof? Are you kidding?”
“You’re very polite and popular with people,” Du Jing said, “and very warm and considerate. Everyone likes you, but no one gets to know the real you.”
Du Jing had really hit the mark with Zhou Luoyang all of a sudden, and Zhou Luoyang had to laugh at himself.
“It’s because ever since I was little,” Zhou Luoyang said, “I’ve been taught to want everyone’s approval, to want to be a good child that everyone liked.”
Du Jing nodded silently. Zhou Luoyang finished ordering and continued, “But I’ve learned something from you—I shouldn’t care about what others think. My own feelings are the most important.”
“That’s right,” Du Jing said, serious.
It was still pouring madly, and they couldn’t find a ride anywhere. That day, the two of them ended up completely and utterly drenched. Zhou Luoyang was soaked from head to toe, even down to his underwear. It’s over, he thought, I’m really gonna catch a cold this time.
But first, an even bigger worry was waiting for them—when they got back to the dorm, the window above Du Jing’s bed had been blown open, and rain was pouring in frantically. Most of the bed was wet; even the mattress was soaked through.
Zhou Luoyang stared, aghast.
“This window’s always been like this. Ever since that typhoon, it wouldn’t close properly,” Du Jing said.
The window never closed all the way. Zhou Luoyang had put in a maintenance request multiple times, but after he submitted his requests, the staff were so slow it was honestly moving. Du Jing tried his best a few times to fix it, but as it was made of stainless steel, he never managed to get it to close properly.
Zhou Luoyang sneezed and went to take a shower. Du Jing stuffed the opening in the window to prevent even more water from making its way inside and wondered how to deal with the aftermath.
“Are you going to find a hotel for the night?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing was at his wits’ end. When Zhou Luoyang came out from the bathroom, he saw him flipping the mattress over twice. Neither side could be slept on. The sheets and pillow were also soaked. And they couldn’t take them down to be dried right away, either. They would have to wait for tomorrow to give everything a proper wash first.
“Never mind. Let me take a shower first.”
Zhou Luoyang leaned the mattress upright next to the desk to let the water drip away so it could dry on its own. By the time Du Jing had dried his hair and come out of the bathroom, Zhou Luoyang was already lying in bed with a pillow for Du Jing next to him.
“Let’s sleep together for now,” Zhou Luoyang said. “The bed’s a little small, so don’t blame me if I kick you awake in the middle of the night.”
Du Jing sat on the side of the bed. After a moment, he said, “You sleep on the inside. I don’t want to crowd you off.”
So Zhou Luoyang shifted inward a little. They’d gone to so many places today; he was about to fall asleep and didn’t have the energy to stay up all night with Du Jing again. “I’m going to sleep. If you want to read, then…”
But Du Jing turned off the lamp and said, “Sleep. I’m tired too.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t sleep very well that night. As far as he could remember, this was his first time sharing a bed with someone in all his life. Maybe Du Jing was the same.
When Zhou Luoyang woke up the next morning, the rain still hadn’t stopped. It was flooding downstairs—Phoenix Spring Lake had overflowed, and koi fish were swimming all over the place.
“Did you sleep well last night?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“Pretty well,” Du Jing replied as he washed his face and brushed his teeth. “You?”
Zhou Luoyang hummed sleepily in agreement and took out his phone. A thought flitted through his mind, and he took a look at Du Jing’s Weibo. Today, he’d posted twice.
[This is the first time I’ve slept through the whole night ever since starting college. Is it because I was sleeping next to him?]
There was another one underneath it, posted at 7:25, when Du Jing had only just woken up. He’d shared the details of the special Egyptian exhibit and offered meticulous commentary on some of the exhibited items. He’d written down everything from their guided audio tour practically without missing a single word.
The shared text read: [Humans are born damaged.]
After Zhou Luoyang washed up, the two of them stood on the balcony and looked down. Many students had rolled up their pants and were holding umbrellas and catching fish with plastic bags.
“I don’t want to go to class today either. Want to skip again?” Zhou Luoyang asked Du Jing.
“Today’s Saturday, so there’s no class anyway. Let’s send the pillow, sheets, and blanket off to be washed first, then I’ll go with you wherever you’d like.”
So Zhou Luoyang and Du Jing went to stroll around once more. Du Jing’s mattress still hadn’t dried by nighttime, so the two of them squeezed together onto Zhou Luoyang’s bed again. And again, for a third night, and a fourth, all the way until Tuesday…Zhou Luoyang discovered that on the nights that Du Jing slept together with him, he almost never had insomnia.
Later, he asked Du Jing about it, but Du Jing didn’t know why that happened either. Supposedly, when insomniacs slept with other people, they tended to disturb each other, making it harder to sleep. But when it came to Du Jing, it was the total opposite.
Then is he not sick anymore? Zhou Luoyang wondered naively. But he noticed that Du Jing was still taking his meds.
For the time being, though, he wouldn’t be tormented by persistent insomnia. That was one good thing, at least.
It was just like the day they were reunited again after three years apart.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Du Jing lay in the storehouse on the spring bed that didn’t even have a mattress. As long as he was next to Zhou Luoyang, he would fall asleep very quickly. After a very unsettling night, he arrived at Zhou Luoyang’s home, and as soon as he got in bed, he fell soundly asleep.
Zhou Luoyang had many terrible, strange dreams of people and events from his school days. He dreamed of Du Jing standing on their balcony and wanting to jump, and he abruptly startled awake to discover that Du Jing was still asleep next to him.
Zhou Luoyang sat up, opened his eyes wide, and sighed.
Du Jing turned over. Half of his body was slipping off the bed. Zhou Luoyang quietly got out of the bed and glanced at his phone. 4:00 PM. They’d slept for eight hours.
Du Jing woke up too.
“Sorry, I forgot,” Zhou Luoyang said. “I shouldn’t have gotten up. I wanted to let you sleep for a little longer.”
It was the same in the past: if Zhou Luoyang woke up, Du Jing could keep sleeping as long as Zhou Luoyang remained in the bed. But as soon as he left, Du Jing would wake up too.
“It’s already a huge blessing that I could fall asleep at all,” Du Jing said. “How long did I sleep for?”
Du Jing felt for his phone and glanced at it, then met Zhou Luoyang’s eyes.
“It’s past twelve.”
September eighth, already past noon. The twenty-four-hour rewind hadn’t repeated itself.
“Thank the heavens and earth.” Now Zhou Luoyang remembered, too. “We didn’t get stuck in the same day.”
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.