CALAMITY Chapter 14 - Dawning
Aktualisiert: 3. Feb. 2021
It was Monday morning. On a day on which Xie Lian would normally have to force himself to get out of bed, drag himself to the kitchen and down two cups of black coffee just to get sufficient energy to go to school, he now looked as fresh as a spring chicken at 6 am, four hours before his classes started.
Who was this excited for school on a Monday morning?? Definitely only a person who was bat-shit crazy, or excited to see their new lover, and Xie Lian was definitely both of those.
Xie Lian picked at his hair in the mirror over and over again, scrutinizing every single strand, determined to look as perfect as he possibly could. Although he had slept for far fewer hours than he should have, he felt no fatigue; his blood rushed through his body in a rapid stream, making his heart beat fast and his cheeks burn up. He wanted to go, he wanted to go, he wanted to go, he wanted to go!!!!!
Finally, he slapped his hands against his cheeks and stared as his reflection with a fierce gaze. He felt invigorated, and after the previous night’s reconciliation with Shi Qingxuan, he was determined to get his life under control and do everything right. He had two people now to depend on, but also to prove himself to; he wanted to do them both justice!!
With this final resolution, Xie Lian turned on his heel, took his bag and jacket and walked out the door. It was still early, but at least getting fresh air was better than endlessly walking in dizzying circles in a narrow apartment. In addition, he would be able to get San Lang something from a bakery. Due to their extensive conversations on the weekend, he now knew what Hua Cheng liked to eat for breakfast: Fresh and savory olive bread. Xie Lian was more the type for sweet pastry, but of course he would get him what he wanted with pleasure.
Xie Lian breathed in the frozen air, gazing quietly towards the pastel-pink morning glow over the horizon. The streets were empty, storefronts just gradually lighting up to welcome the day. In the early dawn, it looked like the world was frozen in a sleepy, blue-grey haze, slumbering quietly, waiting in silence until the morning would wake it up. Xie Lian let his body move by itself while he retreated into his mind, organizing his thoughts properly for the first time in probably weeks.
It was then that he suddenly realized that he had never been officially discharged from the hospital, he had basically eloped and put an abrupt stop to his recovery program. Yet he felt fine, better than in years, hopeful and energetic; so he didn’t think too much about it. He would have probably been discharged around this time anyway, he concluded.
He also thought about how he needed to buy Shi Qingxuan a gift; it was the least he could do to repay her efforts and show his appreciation for all she had done for him. And also… he probably did need to buy a cellphone, Xie Lian thought with resignation. It was the best way to alleviate his best friend’s worries, a way they could keep in contact and communicate.
He also needed to apologize to the hospital staff, visit Feng Xin and Mu Qing one of these days, study for semester finals, pay rent, memorize a ballet routine…
Xie Lian sighed when he realized what a big pile of things there were on his plate and retreated out of his mind, now a rather distraught look on his face. Since the day he had found that red cassette, he had really been neglecting all his duties, and now it all came back to haunt him. There was a lot of work ahead of him. But as soon as Xie Lian thought about the prospect of seeing San Lang and making him proud, energy and determination immediately flowed again, making him pump his fists and continue on with an invigorated stride. He could do this!
Finally, he came upon his favorite bakery, where they always made fresh produce early in the morning. Even from outside the shop, the warming scent of fresh bread wafted through the air and made Xie Lian excited and hungry. Starting to shiver outside, he quickly opened the door, evoking a gentle chime as he stepped inside. The staff welcomed him with a friendly smile, and since they were already quite familiar with his presence and tastes, asked him: „The usual?“ Xie Lian paused, then smiled back and said: „Please add an olive bread!“
After he had paid and exited the bakery, Xie Lian walked to the highest point in town he could find, all the way to a small park that contained a now bare linden tree and two benches, just in front of a short stone railing. From the park, you could overlook the entire city, the grey houses puffing out white smoke from their chimneys. Over the mist below, the sky was getting brighter, now adorned with a beautiful gradient from soft yellow in the east, over pastel pink into a gentle blue towards the still sleepy west.
Xie Lian breathed out a white plume of air, then put down his bag on one of the empty benches and stood in front of the short wall in anticipation. His soft breath was all he could hear in the morning quietude. He stood still and watched in awe as the sky ever so slowly got brighter and brighter, the silhouette of the horizon gradually starting to glow like liquid gold, and finally, without a sound, and yet with all the glory of the heavens, the sun breaking out over the hills, sending rays in all the colors of the rainbow over the land, warming Xie Lian’s blushed and wide-eyed face. The brightness of day seemed to slowly color the city from top to bottom, chasing away the darkness and cold of the night with every inch the sun got higher. The smoke from the chimneys started glowing in the golden rays, reflecting them and making the originally dull and lifeless town suddenly turn mystical and bright.
Xie Lian watched this sight with wide eyes, breath trembling as he awed the almost supernatural beauty of it all. The warmth of the sun seemed to caress his cheeks and cause sparkles to erupt from his eyes. He felt like had never seen a sunrise this breathtaking… he marveled at the sheer majesty, the eruption of emotion it suddenly caused within his heart. He felt like he was at the top of the world, all the way in in heaven.
What a joy it was to be alive!
Without blinking, without even thinking, Xie Lian started moving. First position, arms swept up in poise… step backwards, foot out, a twirl… neck extended on lowered shoulders… fingers tensed to their tips, low center of gravity… controlled breathing… finding balance… forgetting everything…
Xie Lian lost himself in a whirl of sentiment, golden light and white plumes of breath… the spinning ground and magnificent sky filling his sight, making him feel like he was flying through space, ascending, leaving the world far behind. He kept on dancing, never stopping, he kept on even as his brow was lined with sweat, his flushed lips perpetually open as gasps escaped them in increasing intensity. After many, many minutes he was obviously exhausted, exerted to his limit… but he couldn’t stop. It felt like the beauty of nature was cheering him on, enveloping him, making him one with the universe. The dancing had completely captured him and didn’t let go. He kept on spinning and twirling, leaning his head back in his neck, completely absorbed in his art.
The sun was already completely freed from the horizon, now shining bright with all its glory. Xie Lian’s coat was lying on the floor, when his knees finally quivered and buckled. He had danced until he could no more.
He stumbled backwards as he attempted to stop his fall, when his back suddenly hit something and he felt two hands grasp his shoulders. Surprised, Xie Lian turned his almost feverish head, and then, recognizing the person who had caught him, widened his eyes and beamed.
„San Lang!! Good morning!“, he cheered through heavy breathing.
San Lang looked like he had sprung forward just in time, hair slightly disheveled, eye wide with surprise. But then, he pressed his lips together, brows slightly furrowed… his expression turned very conflicted. Under his hands, he felt the tremors coursing through Xie Lian’s petite body, the heat generated by his erratic heartbeat. Despite his worrisome face, he spoke gently: „Gege… what are you doing, dancing without a jacket in the cold morning? What if you had collapsed?“
Xie Lian heard the apprehension in San Lang’s voice and felt a pang of guilt. Oh no, he thought, he worried San Lang again… what should he do??
Quickly, Xie Lian turned around to face San Lang and put his own hands up on San Lang’s broad shoulders. His expression was apologetic as he tried to soothe him. „I’m sorry, San Lang; I went too far again. Thank you for catching me.“
But after gazing at Xie Lian for a moment, San Lang turned his head away and murmured shyly: „I wish… that Gege would take better care of himself. You almost fell… I couldn’t bear to see Gege get hurt again… I wouldn’t know what to do…“ San Lang’s voice was grave, and Xie Lian’s blood froze as he realized how serious he was. Face pale with guilt, he moved his hands from his shoulders to his face, cupping it gently between his warm fingers.
„Oh San Lang… I promise I’ll take better care of myself… I’m sorry, this stupid Gege still has a lot to learn. I keep forgetting that… there are people now… around me… who care about… anyway, I won’t make you worry about me ever again, I promise!“ Xie Lian at last spoke with emphasis, making an oath not only to San Lang, but to himself. The ease with which he let go of self-control needed to stop, this he now deeply realized.
San Lang looked back at Xie Lian with a glistening eye, the cold coloring his nose a pale red. He looked almost pitiable, making Xie Lian even more sorry that he had caused him to worry.
Without a word, San Lang slipped out of his fingers, bent over and picked up the carelessly thrown-away jacket from the ground. He patted it off, then reached around Xie Lian from in front and laid it around his shoulders. He held one side open, waiting for him to slip his arm through, which Xie Lian immediately did. His head was hung down in shame and sorrow, thinking that San Lang was really mad at him, judging from his muteness.
When he had also put his other arm through the remaining sleeve, San Lang silently started buttoning up his jacket from bottom to top, ending up at his collar. Once there, he stopped his hands; he noticed how Xie Lian wasn’t looking at him, his face instead looking down in sadness.
San Lang silently gasped, then gently laid his hands on his cheeks and turned them up to face him.
Xie Lian looked on the brink of tears, eyes moist and lined with redness; he sniffled repeatedly, trying hard not to start weeping out loud. San Lang’s heart stopped in shock, immediately sensing that this was what his words and following silence had caused. Eye widening in horror and regret, he immediately pulled Xie Lian to his chest, burying him in a tight embrace.
Gently holding Xie Lian’s small, trembling head against himself, he frantically started comforting him: „Gege, don’t cry, don’t cry… San Lang is sorry… you were dancing so beautifully, like an angel… You really stopped my breath… it’s because Gege is so amazing that he needs to take better care of himself… please Gege, don’t cry, I’m so sorry… San Lang was wrong….“
In San Lang’s embrace, Xie Lian didn’t manage to utter a single word, still struggling to choke down sobs with his eyes squeezed shut. His fingers grasped at San Lang’s jacket, trying to steady himself against the big, protective being. He felt his hair being gently stroked from above, soothing whispers entering his ears and making him slowly, gradually calm down. But San Lang’s arms never loosened, never retracted their warmth from around Xie Lian’s small body. He softly cradled him back and forth, planting chaste kisses onto the top of his head as the sun rose higher and higher, and the morning turned into day.
When Xie Lian finally stopped shaking with suppressed cries and his breathing returned to normal, he kept lying still against San Lang’s chest, feeling so comfortably submerged in warmth and affection, he never wanted to leave his embrace. As if to emphasise this, he burrowed his face even further into San Lang’s clothes and wrapped his own arms around his torso, pulling him closer. Like this, in the stillness, he could hear San Lang’s heartbeat even through his thick winter clothes.
The heartbeat seemed somewhat profound, as if it was the sound of steadily falling raindrops. It was warm, familiar and comforting, immediately having a soothing effect on Xie Lian. The two of them were now squeezed together so tightly, they seemed to melt into each other, becoming one single entity.
Finally, San Lang’s voice resonated from above Xie Lian, although a bit muffled through the arm still holding his head.
„Gege?“, he softly inquired.
„Mn“, Xie Lian answered.
„Will you promise me to never call yourself stupid again?“
Xie Lian waited a moment, then nodded once.
„Will you promise me to cherish your body and health more?“
Xie Lian nodded twice, this time with more conviction.
„Will you… forgive this lowly one for making Gege cry?“ This question, San Lang uttered with more hesitation, almost afraid.
Xie Lian opened his eyes, and moved his head for the first time to look up, chin resting against San Lang’s chest. His gaze was deep and intense, although still bedded into pinkness around his eyes. San Lang looked down, their faces now just inches apart.
Xie Lian said: „San Lang… I pledge to never make you worry ever again, as long as you never call yourself „lowly“ or anything like that again. You saved my life, you keep being there to catch my fall, both literally and figuratively… you are anything but lowly. San Lang, will you promise me as well?“
San Lang swallowed, then smiled and nodded. „I promise, Gege.“
Xie Lian smiled back at him, blush resting on his cheeks. „Then there’s nothing to forgive!“, he said in a joyful, almost cheeky manner. Then, he suddenly stood on his toes, hopped up and placed a kiss onto San Lang’s lips. When he descended again, he smiled shyly, and after the expression of surprise faded on San Lang’s face, he grinned himself and attacked Xie Lian with a wave of kisses and pecks all over his face. This made Xie Lian break out into laughter and playful resistance, of course all while cherishing every single one of San Lang’s kisses that befell his face.
After that, they finally separated from their hug, although their bodies suddenly seemed magnetized, continuously touching and bumping each other, never really letting any distance grow between them. None of them minded one bit.
Fortunately, there was still some time left, so Xie Lian got out the bread and pastry he had bought, excitedly thinking they could eat breakfast together in the park. The gesture inexplicably making San Lang break out into a furious blush. After Xie Lian stared at him questioningly, San Lang raised his hand to his mouth in embarrassment, before reaching into his own bag and pulling out: A sweet pastry and an olive bread, from the same bakery Xie Lian had visited earlier in the morning. This of course made Xie Lian burst out with laughter, his hands clasped over his belly as he shook with delight. After a moment of San Lang’s blush heating up even more, he as well broke out into a chuckle and joined Xie Lian, their laughter echoing out over the bright and empty streets.
After that, they exchanged what they had bought for one another and sat down on the bench, bodies of course so close together as if they had fallen into glue and had long accepted their fate of inseparability. They munched on their breakfasts, sometimes reaching out to give the other a bite of their own, exchanging praises and impressions. Xie Lian was sure that this was the most wonderful breakfast he had ever experienced.
After they had stuffed themselves full with food, Xie Lian and San Lang slowly strolled through the awakening town towards university. Although Xie Lian had walked on this path hundreds of times before, now, with San Lang by his side, everything looked different and fresh, as if the very world around him had transformed. Every surface seemed bright and colorful, every object came to life with joy and happiness… everything reflected Xie Lian’s own state of mind.
The two of them walked close together, concealing the fact that Xie Lian’s right hand was stuffed into San Lang’s pocket, where his fingers were intertwined with those of his.
No matter how hard he tried, Xie Lian couldn’t stop smiling. He must look like a complete buffoon, he thought, with his cheeks puffed up like rice cakes, his gaze lowered in shyness and chaste embarrassment. San Lang looked composed, but if one looked closely, a soft pinkness could be espied resting on his cheeks.
Although Xie Lian was at first a bit anxious, when they finally entered campus, nobody paid them any mind. At a fleeting glance, the two of them didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Xie Lian had always kept himself out of the spotlight at school, doing his best to blend in with the grey backdrop of his everyday life. He didn’t know how it was with San Lang, but he was absolutely certain that if it just hinged on him, they wouldn’t pull any attention to themselves.
The two of them walked as far as they could through the thickening crowd, knowing that they would have to separate up ahead to go to their respective departments. Xie Lian of course didn’t want to let go of San Lang’s hand, but it was just a few hours, they’d be able to see each other again soon, he thought. As they reached the intersection and they turned to face each other and were just about to say their goodbyes, when a female voice shouted from beside them, tone incredulous: „Holy shit, isn’t that Hua Ching??“
At these words, San Lang’s face immediately stiffened. Xie Lian turned his head to see who had raised their voice so conspicuously, and saw a group of female students staring and pointing at San Lang. Amongst themselves, they whispered and seemed to discuss something rather intensely. A girl kept pointing at her phone screen and looked back and forth between the device and San Lang.
A puzzled expression befell Xie Lian’s face, and he glanced back at San Lang’s face himself, only to find it frozen in place, carrying indiscernible emotions. Xie Lian immediately knew; something was up. Could it be that San Lang was actually way more reputable at school than he thought? He wouldn’t be surprised… San Lang was amazing. But what was…
Suddenly, San Lang slightly flinched as if snapping out of deep thought, then he looked down at Xie Lian’s confused face. He paused in hesitation, then quickly whispered: „Gege, don’t mind them… I’ll… explain everything later. Please trust me. For now, let’s go to class, okay?“ He smiled, but to Xie Lian’s eyes, it didn’t seem too reassuring. However, San Lang had asked him to trust him, so he decided to do so. He trusted San Lang.
Xie Lian smiled back as warmly as he could. „Alright San Lang. Do well in class, I’ll see you later, okay?“
At Xie Lian’s loving expression, painful guilt seemed to flash across San Lang’s face for just a moment, then he squeezed Xie Lian’s hand one more time before he turned around and left, disappearing into the crowded campus hallway.
Xie Lian kept standing there for a moment, watching San Lang’s back fade into the distance.
Against his will, he inexplicably felt an knot in his stomach, but he quickly shook his head to disperse the uneasy feeling, before looking at the group of female students one more time. They were still vivaciously whispering amongst themselves, but abruptly stopped when they noticed Xie Lian looking at them. Under their piercing stare, Xie Lian was startled and shrunk into himself, suddenly defenseless. He frantically averted his gaze, looked left and right, then threw himself into the stream of students to escape their gaze.
Once settled in class, his thoughts kept drifting off course, replaying the strange situation from before over and over again. In his spinning head, fragments of his and San Lang’s earlier conversations flashed up. For some reason, San Lang’s vague words about the two unknown members of CALAMITY came to mind and made Xie Lian wonder if these things were correlated. As he kept pondering and forgot his lecture more and more, he couldn’t help but ask himself:
What was San Lang’s secret?
—TO BE CONTINUED—
Note: They call him „Hua Ching“ because on his online profile, his name is displayed as „Hua Ch☆ng“, so they don‘t know the vowel; they assume it‘s „Ching“ because it sounds similar to „Xing“, the mandarin word for „Star“.