„Hua Cheng, get up.“
Hua Cheng: „ . . . “
„If you don’t get up right now I’m feeding Yin Yu to my piranhas.“
Hua Cheng: „. . . .“
„If you don’t get up this second I’m telling Xie Lian that you’re the coward who has been giving him flowers for two years and that you scream his name in your sleep.“
Hua Cheng, growling: „He Xuan, what is your fucking problem? I’m getting up okay, I’m getting the fuck up!!“
Although Hua Cheng was grumbling and looked like he was about to kill somebody, after He Xuan’s threat, he obediently heaved himself off the couch, stumbled over the mess of empty takeaway dishes and let himself fall into one of the two chairs at the kitchen table. Still groaning with sleepiness, he ruffled his wild, unkempt hair, then glared at He Xuan.
He Xuan looked stunning as always, a cool air of class surrounding her, despite the filthy basement she was standing in. She also slowly made her way to the table, while speaking very calmly: „Obviously my problem is you, Hua Cheng. Look at this place… remind me again why we’re living together?“ Her tone wasn’t snobby or condescending at all, but rather clear and honest, as if she really was curious about this point.
Hua Cheng’s dark circles seemed to darken even more as he snarled: „Because we’re both fucking broke college students, and this shithole is the best we can afford. Oh, and before we forget, who is it that acts like she’s too good for this place but is behind on rent?? You owe me for three months!!“ Hua Cheng leaned forward on his elbows, trying to make an intimidating impression… but He Xuan was unfazed.
„Not anymore, Hua Cheng. I’m moving out“, she said with a firm tone while still standing beside the table. Hua Cheng’s eye widened as he looked up at her in disbelief. „What??? Are you kidding me?? Where are you gonna go??“ He was struggling to understand why his roommate would leave him so suddenly.
He Xuan sighed, then finally dropped her bag and walked to the kitchen counter, spending quite a long time trying to find a clean mug. She then started operating the coffee machine, withdrawing her hand with an „ugh“ as she touched something undesirable, then finally watched as the brown liquid poured into the cup, scent filling the room with its rich aroma. Back facing Hua Cheng, she started to speak again. „I’m moving in with Shi Qingxuan.“
„Who the fuck is that?“ Hua Cheng spat.
The coffee slowly topped up inside the cup. „Xie Lian’s friend“, He Xuan answered calmly.
Hua Cheng’s eye widened, and as he wanted to speak, he noticed that he was suddenly tongue-tied.
„Xi-Xie L…. friend??? How do you know his friend?? Have they already agreed to this???“ Hua Cheng sputtered, suddenly looking quite discomposed. His confusion was tangible.
He Xuan wiped off the drips around the mug, then lifted it at its handle. „Coincidence. This has nothing to do with Xie Lian. Well, she hasn’t agreed to let me move in… actually, she doesn’t know anything about this. But what is she gonna do about it? Besides…“ Turning around, walking towards the table with all the coolness in the world and sitting down with poise, a devious smile settled on He Xuan’s lips. „…she likes me.“
In the face of Hua Cheng’s baffled expression, He Xuan settled her smile again and took a very relaxed and peaceful sip out of her mug.
Finally, Hua Cheng leaned back in his chair in exasperation. He couldn’t believe it. Under his breath, he grumbled: „Squatter…“
He Xuan couldn’t be disturbed. „Call me what you will. Even living as a squatter would be better than living with you.“
Hua Cheng crossed his arms and glared at He Xuan. If somebody was a little insane, they might even say that he was pouting.
Trying to sound threatening, but sounding mainly helpless, he said: „What’s so bad about living with me?? I don’t drink, I don’t smoke— okay, maybe I smoke sometimes, I’m a pretty clean— umm, I take care of the… uh, garbage, sometimes…. people… I mean, the old lady in the apartment above didn’t run away for the first time when she saw me last week… you know, I don’t do drugs… okay, that one time— god damn it, at least I pay the fucking rent, okay??? I pay the fucking rent!!!!!“ Face having gradually gotten redder and redder as he rambled on, he finally exploded in the end, shouting at a completely composed He Xuan. Having been sipping at her mug all along, she now finally put it down quite audibly, then leaned forward on the table.
„Do you know what your problem is, Hua Cheng? You’re always acting so tough, thinking you’re the shit, but you’re actually a complete coward. Look at yourself, for nearly a week now you haven’t had the balls to go out into the world, afraid that people would recognize you on the street and what, attack you??“ A frown slowly started taking shape on He Xuan’s face.
Face still flushed with indignation, Hua Cheng seemed to puff up with outrage. „They would!! Have you seen the shit people post online? They’re writing smut about me, He Xuan!!! They’re editing my photos together with sexy music and use the videos as thirst traps!!! They’re organizing themselves into task forces to look for me!!!! Bai Wuxiang, that motherfucker!!“ Suddenly involving a third party in the argument, Hua Cheng also leaned forward on the table and looked at He Xuan with intense eyes. „You know how easy it would be for him to take those photos down from the internet? He let them circulate on purpose, for some reason he’s hellbent on destroying my life!! Am I being punished for something?!“
He Xuan stared back at him, face unmoving like stone. „I don’t know, Hua Cheng, as far as I know you’re the one who almost got us ruined over assault charges, lawsuits and bad press; you’re the one who left the stage during the last song and destroyed the show. If it wasn’t for Bai Wuxiang cleaning up after your ass you’d be in prison right now! Have you ever thought about that, huh??“ He Xuan’s voice gradually got darker and darker with anger, but she barely let any emotions show on her cold face.
However her anger was nothing compared to the fury that distorted Hua Cheng’s face at that moment. With a voice that just barely made it through his clenched throat, he growled: „If I hadn’t left the show, Xie Lian would be dead right now. Then we’d have a body count. How would that be for bad press, hah??? Would you be happy then, He Xuan??!!!!!“ Hua Cheng’s eye was burning with rage, his hands clenched into trembling fists.
He Xuan said nothing. She then took another sip of her coffee and asked: „Whose fault was it that he ran out of there in the first place?“
As if doused in cold water, the rage within Hua Cheng dissipated into sizzling mist at once. The fire went out and left him a burnt-out shell. He was completely speechless, eye suddenly losing all its shine and head sinking lower and lower. Guilt constricting his chest, he avoided He Xuan’s piercing gaze and released his fists. Silence filled the dim room.
Having finished her coffee, He Xuan put down the empty mug and stood up. „Why don’t you do something for once, Hua Cheng? Take this situation and turn it into something good, instead of sulking around endlessly in your cave? Also, the thing with Xie Lian… get your fucking act together. I’ve been watching you throw white flowers at him from a distance for two years, waiting for a miracle to happen, and the last straw was the flower in front of his hospital room. Yeah, Shi Qingxuan told me all about it. Really, it was the epitome of pitifulness. You better gather your guts, face him and tell him all that you need to. If you do these things, you might redeem yourself a bit in my eyes, and I’ll consider moving in with you again. But until then, it’s goodbye.“
With that, He Xuan grabbed her bag, picked up a suitcase she had already prepared and walked out the door.
As if struck by thunder, Hua Cheng was left sitting alone at the table, the quiet walls of the basement enclosing themselves around him. For several minutes, all he could do was stare into the air, completely shaken. Then, as if in a trance, he turned around in his chair and looked at the filthy space behind him. Seeing all the stacked dirty dishes, clothes and CDs sprawled out in disorganization, the dust gathering on all surfaces and full trash bags piling near the entrance, a crawling sense of disgust crept up his back. Suddenly, he was gripped by dismay and shame. If Xie Lian saw this mess… what would he think of him??
Xie Lian… just thinking about him, an unbearable wave of emotions overcame him… but most overwhelming of all was the guilt. Most of Hua Cheng’s absolute unwillingness to see the light of day in the past week was due to the weight of the blame he felt because of Xie Lian’s near death. And also… because of what happened during the performance, he felt like the lowest scum on this earth. Two years of careful work, absolute lack of contact as not to scare him, perfect stealth in dropping subtle hints, waiting patiently for the right moment, all down the drain in a single night. To think that Xie Lian would actually attend the concert…
When Hua Cheng had first spotted Xie Lian in the crowd, it felt like his heart had dropped right out of his chest. He had been so shocked and confused that he had almost missed his entrance, not knowing how to act or what to do, scared to death that Xie Lian might be disgusted by him or worse, recognize him. But what he had never in his life expected… was that Xie Lian would pull him off the stage himself and then…k-ki-ki—
Not being able to finish the thought as the visions and sensations of that moment flooded Hua Cheng’s memory, he slapped his hands over his burning face. At that time, there was no way, no sliver of a chance that he would have been able to control himself… Xie Lian’s passionate and lustful expression was still imprinted freshly in his mind, driving him mad everytime he remembered it. Even now he could feel his slender body trapped beneath his own, completely at his mercy… his warmth seeping into him… he remembered Xie Lian’s warm breath on his lips just before he covered them with his own… he could still feel his small but irresistible tongue intrude his mouth and completely muddle his brain. Really, he… had totally been caught off guard. And he had given in completely. But because of that, because he wasn’t able to control his own desires, Xie Lian was in such a terrifying state right now.
He must… despise him.
Head still buried in his hands, Hua Cheng kept sitting at his dusty table, not wanting to look up, longing to escape reality.
Deep in his heart however, he knew… He Xuan had spoken the truth. Even if it meant learning that Xie Lian hated him forever, he needed to face him and accept whatever punishment he received.
Hua Cheng’s heart clenched as he came to this resolution. Feeling as if his head was stuck in a guillotine, he forced himself to stand up from his seat, and with great effort, started cleaning his apartment. In three days, he thought, in three days he would go visit Xie Lian. But first… he needed to do something about his own unfortunate situation.
As he was cleaning up, the exertion actually made him relax and retreat into his mind, zoning out as he let his body take over the movements of cleaning. He was thinking.
In a way, you could say that he was… famous. Fame… came with fortune. How could he profit from this situation…?
As more thoughts and ideas came to his mind, a gleam suddenly entered his eyes, and his movements gradually became invigorated and energetic. As he let his imagination run wild, he projected himself into the future, a future where he was rich and successful, owned a city and was venerated and admired by everybody. He’d build a huge house, a mansion next to a lake, in the most beautiful landscape imaginable, so beautiful that it resembled paradise. He’d hang out lanterns around the shore and patios, so that the night would never be dark… so that the person living with him would never have to be cold or scared. There would be carpets running all the way to the water, so that the person next to him would never have to get his feet dirty or wet. There would be colorful fabrics hung everywhere, so that his person would never have to see anything gray and sad. He and his person would live together in this house until the end of time, longer than anybody else, never separating, never letting go of each other’s hands, never stopping to love one another. Just him, and Xie Lian, forever.
And the day progressed with Hua Cheng cleaning his apartment tirelessly, his eye sparkling, a soft melody escaping his smiling lips.
Poof!! The bouquet of flowers exploded into a carpet of petals and leaves as it fell to the floor. Shi Qingxuan looked up in dismay.
„There, flowers!!! Can I fucking leave now?!“
Feng Xin sighed and shook his head. „Mu Qing, stop being such an ass. Why did you drop the flowers? What are you, four?? If you still have a brain in there somewhere show some respect!“ With that, he slapped Mu Qing on the back of his head.
Having jerked forward with the hit, Mu Qing covered the now smarting area with his hand and glared at Feng Xin. His expression dark with anger, he spat: „Feng Xin you bitch, you have no FUCKING idea how much this bastard ruined the show!!! He’s crazy!!!! He doesn’t deserve the least amount of respect!!! He—“
Feng Xin had crossed his arms and listened to Mu Qing with twitching eyebrows. At last, he threw him a sharp glance, cutting deep and conveying the message that he wasn’t joking around. With a deep and warning tone, he said: „Mu Qing, shut the fuck up.“
Seeing Feng Xin’s uncompromising expression, Mu Qing grit his teeth and eventually huffed in unwilling resignation. He then turned up his nose in distaste, crossed his arms and faced away from the group.
Sighing again, Feng Xin bent over and lifted the now disheveled bouquet up from the ground, then passed it on to Shi Qingxuan with an apologetic look on his face. „I don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry we made a scene. I dragged him here, threatening to destroy his CALAMTY collection if he didn’t at least show his face… well however that may be, we’re both so sorry for what happened, and truly pray for your swift recovery, Xie Lian.“
With a last judgemental glance at Mu Qing, Shi Qingxuan passed the bouquet over to Xie Lian’s outreached hands. Holding the bouquet, Xie Lian lifted it up to his face, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A moment later, he released it and with a smile, turned to face Mu Qing and Feng Xin. „They are beautiful and smell so sweetly, thank you so much for the kind gesture“, he said with a warm tone. Then, a slightly embarrassed expression took over his face. He picked at his pink cheek as he continued: „…and Mu Qing, I’m sorry for what happened. I didn’t mean to ruin the show for you, at that time… I wasn’t fully aware of my actions. And I’m so grateful that you stopped me in… time… and got me to cool off my head. Honestly, I would have been doomed without you. Thank you.“
Xie Lian tried to bend over as far as he could in his half-lying half-seated position, clearly bowing to the one he had just addressed. This made even Mu Qing flustered, and his cheeks flushed in shame. „G-give it a break!! Just so you know, you have a lifetime of owing me coffees ahead of you for this one!! So don’t you dare just pass away!!!“ With that outburst, Mu Qing’s head had gotten so red that steam seemed to come off, and he turned on his heel and stomped out the door. Feng Xin sighed and wanted to say something, but Xie Lian raised his hand and smiled.
„It’s okay Feng Xin. Thank you both so much for coming to visit me, it means so much to me. If he asks later, tell him I’m recovering well and fast. Fortunately, the doctors could detect no long-lasting side effects of hypothermia in my brain, so everything is fine. It also seems like I don’t need surgery, so everything is half as bad.“ Xie Lian spoke softly but confidently, evoking a reassured smile on Feng Xin’s face.
„Hearing that brings relief to my heart. I heard you just woke up a little over three days ago, I wasn’t sure you could even speak, so seeing you like this is just wonderful. If you ever need anything, just let me know. If it’s cassettes you want, you’ll of course get a special discount, just leave it to me.“ In the end Feng Xin grinned broadly and beamed at Xie Lian, making a very reliable impression. Xie Lian felt warmth spreading in his heart at his words. How wonderful it was to have friends, he thought.
He smiled back at Feng Xin and said with a teasing tone: „I’ll be counting on you then, you better not take back what you said!“
Feng Xin laughed heartily and promised he wouldn’t. They talked some more, until the golden hour approached and the rays of the setting sun filtered through the translucent curtain of the hospital room. Since it was getting late, Feng Xin politely excused himself and left, saying he needed to get back to the record shop and also check up on a certain someone.
When the hospital room was empty and quiet again, Xie Lian sighed, his heart full.
Seeing her friend look so happy and satisfied, Shi Qingxuan couldn’t help but feel great joy and relief. All her worries had been unnecessary; after another long rest, Xie Lian had woken up unchanged, completely aware of his surroundings and with all his memories intact. More than that, he didn’t have the bad reaction to being in the hospital that Shi Qingxuan thought he would have, in the contrary: He seemed… relaxed, content. And in the last three days, he already recovered his strength a great deal and was able to walk without any problems.
Just as she thought this, she noticed that Xie Lian was pulling back his covers and swung his legs over the bed’s edge. When Shi Qingxuan looked at him questioningly, Xie Lian smiled and explained: „The evening is so lovely: I want to get a bit of fresh air before it gets dark.“ Shi Qingxuan took in the golden light in the room and nodded. She then got up and moved to grab both their jackets, ready to help Xie Lian exit the hospital. Although he was able to walk on his own, she was still worried that he might trip and fall.
But when he saw her actions, Xie Lian stopped her, although with shyness painted on his face.
„Ah, Shi Qingxuan… please don’t be mad, but I wanna try to go out by myself… the doctor said it would be good practice and boost my morale… it’s just a short walk, I’ll be back in fifteen minutes tops, I promise. I’ll be fine!!“ With a firm and reassuring voice, he tried to persuade Shi Qingxuan. Shi Qingxuan looked at her friend, worry reflected in her eyes… but when she met Xie Lian’s determined gaze, she sighed and gave in. He was right; she couldn’t help him forever. She knew Xie Lian trusted her… she needed to trust him as well. She owed it to him.
Saying nothing, she passed him his jacket. This made Xie Lian beam at her, grateful that she let him go. Eager, he put it on and wanted to storm out of the narrow room, desperate for open space; but under Shi Qingxuan’s watchful gaze, he controlled himself and shuffled out with careful steps. He didn’t want to make the mistake of actually falling.
The elevator doors opened, and like a curtain unveiling the entrance to paradise, Xie Lian’s vision filled with the sight of the sunlit foyer, only a wide glass front separating him from trees, fresh air and nature. Barely able to contain his longing for the outside world, he put one foot in front of the other, eyes filling more and more with the golden light.
His breath hitched as he felt the cold air suddenly fall on his warm cheeks, coloring them rosy and blushed. As he let the glass door fall shut behind him, His eyes started sparkling as he looked at the scenery through the white plumes of vapor he breathed out.
Right in front of the hospital, there was a big park full of old trees and expansive meadows. Narrow paths made their way through the now wintery landscape, all eventually leading to a big clearing in the middle where there was a large fountain and benches surrounding it. In the last rays of sunlight, everything looked like it was coated with pure gold, the fine layer of snow glistening, making everything look enchanted and magical.
Smile pushing his cheeks up to his eyes, Xie Lian felt vigor fill him. He had longed for this, for fresh air, sunlight and being able to walk on his own. Breathing out intentionally hard, he giggled as he watched the air turn to white in front of him. He then randomly picked one of the many paths and entered the park.
He was all alone. Even though the air was cold, the sunlight was intense and warmed his pink cheeks. Feeling like he was unwatched, he tested his strength carefully, hopping from one leg onto the other, and feeling like he was in no danger of buckling and collapsing, eventually started skipping down the path with spirited jumps. He started laughing with joy: After the days confined in the little room, always having to depend on somebody else, right now he felt free as a bird! How fortunate… how fortunate he was alive.
Continuing on this path, he made his way through a little grove, and then in the distance, finally spotted the frozen over fountain, shining like a beacon in the warm light. Having almost reached his goal, Xie Lian’s untiring hops got even higher and his smile even broader.
Suddenly, he heard a rustle behind him, which made him abruptly stop his jumps and spin around. Looking down the cleared path he had just come from, there were thick trees left and right, but nothing else to be seen. He waited a little more with his breath held, but since there were no more sounds or movements, he turned around again and walked towards the fountain. This was a park after all; it was certain that there would be animals and critters lurking in the bushes. Settling his beating heart, Xie Lian now came up on the clearing in the middle of the park, just as the sun was about to touch the horizon.
An almost inaudible voice made Xie Lian stop dead in his tracks. Eyes widening, he felt his heartbeat explode in his chest and his lips start to tremble… he remembered this voice… more than that. He knew this voice. Better than anybody else’s voice. He had listened to this voice when he was at the bottom of despair, on the height of ecstasy, and on the verge of dying. This voice which was deep as a devil’s, clear as the winter sky, hopeful as an angel’s. This voice… right now, it was incredibly soft, as if it didn’t want to be heard, tinged with so many emotions that it made Xie Lian’s chest constrict. Although his head was spinning, he didn’t process any of the thoughts that went through it, and inexplicably, his eyes started filling with tears.
His legs which had just been jumping around so lively were now rooted to the ground, shaking ever so slightly, unable to move.
But through the pulsating rush of blood in his ears, he could hear nothing more. Not another sound was uttered from behind him.
Suddenly, the fear that the person whom this voice belonged to had already disappeared gripped Xie Lian.
No, he thought, no no no, no!! Don’t disappear from me again!!!
Clenching his hands into fists, he took together all his wits and slowly, ever so slowly, turned around.
Through the blurred film covering his vision, Xie Lian saw a big figure standing on the path, standing as if frozen, not moving even a single inch. In its arms, it held a big bouquet of snow-white flowers, but the petals seemed to tremble ever so slightly. The face of the figure was pale and unmoving, staring at Xie Lian as if under shock. Its one, big eye seemed to sparkle in the last rays of the day, not blinking even once. Its mouth was opened just a tad, as if it wanted to say something, but not a sound escaped the frozen lips.
After seconds that seemed endless, seconds of just staring at each other in petrified positions, the big figure’s features suddenly seemed to lose all of their tension and collapsed into themselves. Not even whispering, the figure breathed into the cold air: „Thank god you’re alright… thank god you’re alright…“, and in the next moment, it sunk to the floor on its knees, lowering its head all the way to the ground.
Xie Lian was breathless with shock. Not making any inclination of lifting its head, the figure stayed in its prostrating position and started whispering: „Forgive me… forgive me… I’m sorry I scared you… I’m sorry for taking advantage of you… I— I wish I could take your place, take on all your pain and hurt… I— I’m so sorry, forgive me… forgive me…“
Xie Lian’s head was spinning so fast he felt dizzy, but the one thought he heard screaming louder than any other was: No… this wasn’t right!! He should be the one kneeling on the cold ground begging for forgiveness!!
Tears threatening to spill over, barely conscious of his own movements, he slowly set one foot in front of the other and approached the cowering figure.
As the man heard the footsteps, he went silent, but didn’t move an inch… as if he was ready to accept divine punishment. It was silent. Then, suddenly, he heard the sound of something dropping to the ground, right in front of him. Eye opening from being clenched shut, he dared to lift his head… and was immediately speechless. Xie Lian was kneeling on the ground right in front of him, looking at him with tears in his eyes, wearing the saddest, most heartbroken expression on his face the man had ever seen.
He forgot how to breathe, forgot how to think. All he could do was stare at Xie Lian, frozen, unmoving.
When he saw the figure just stare at him in shock, completely dumbfounded, Xie Lian finally couldn’t hold back anymore. Tears falling down his cheeks onto the ground below, he abandoned the little control he still had and threw his arms around the rooted figure, sobbing into the warm bend of its neck.
„Ughh uhhhhh, I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry!!!! Uughh uuuu… thank you, thank you for saving me, thank you, thank you… ahhhh I’m sorry, thank you, thank you!!!!“ He continued bawling and choking out words that drowned in his cries, not loosening his grip on the man for even a second, wanting to hold onto him forever, afraid, terrified of letting go…
As the sun slowly disappeared behind the glowing horizon, another eye finally spilled its tears, and another pair of arms wrapped around Xie Lian, holding him tight, wanting to keep him warm, keep him safe… keep him within his embrace forever.
—TO BE CONTIINUED—