Shi Yan brought He Nuo to his father’s company hostel to eat. He gave his family a call to inform them that he wouldn’t be going back and asked them to settle the bill for them later. The blackened wounds on He Nuo’s hand that he was using chopsticks with made it difficult for Shi Yan to swallow this meal. When he was washing his hands before they ate, he had seen He Nuo’s eyebrows twitch from the pain. After the meal, he discovered that there was a serious injury on his left palm when he grasped He Nuo’s hand, “These were all caused while you were welding?”
He Nuo nodded, “I don’t really know how to use it, that’s why it got like this.” Since He Nuo was a temporary worker, he was not given any equipment. He Nuo didn’t have any gloves that could protect his hands, which was why his hands were in the state they are now. After the adults went to work in the afternoon, Shi Yan and He Nuo went back to He Nuo’s house. Shi Yan asked him to sort out all of his books and prepare to go back to school tomorrow. He Nuo actually didn’t believe him, but he didn’t want to brush his good intentions off so he pulled out the carton under his bed. Shi Yan went over and squatted down to help him.
Some medication entered his line of sight. Shi Yan picked them up to look at them and his voice went hoarse, “You’re urinating blood again?!”
He Nuo jumped up. His hematuria made him think of the college entrance examination, and the examination made him think of what had happened before it. He was really frightened — the cover that he had placed on the past that he didn’t want to recall was being taken off, and the memories that he had sealed off when he faced this person was now being dragged out by Shi Yan. He Nuo felt humiliated, inferior and a sense of dread.
The moment he saw this reaction, Shi Yan’s heart sank. He said the answer for him bitterly, “During the examination.” He walked towards He Nuo and only thought of embracing him. How much…did He Nuo suffer? He Nuo had backed up to his table and there was nowhere else he could retreat to. When Shi Yan hugged him, He Nuo refused him, “Don’t, don’t…” Yet he didn’t dare to exert too much strength as he was afraid of triggering Shi Yan’s madness.
“I’m sorry, He Nuo; I’m sorry, He Nuo……” The Shi Yan who has always swelled up with inordinate arrogance was apologising piously. He hated himself, he hated his carefree travels during the holidays, and he hated himself for not coming to look for He Nuo. Even if he was busy entertaining others, he could have still gotten away for a short while to come look for He Nuo. When he was with his buddies last time, didn’t he still take some time out to come take a look at He Nuo anyway? When it boiled down to it, Shi Yan was just avoiding He Nuo in his heart. What Shi Yan didn’t realise was that he didn’t hate that afternoon, and in the years to come, he had never said that he hated what had happened that afternoon. It was not that afternoon that he felt sorry for, but the relapse of He Nuo’s illness that he had caused, and how he hadn’t been by He Nuo’s side when he was all alone and had no one else to rely on.
Shi Yan’s pain transformed into a strength that he used to imprison He Nuo, a strength to knead He Nuo into his own blood and bones. He Nuo was strangled by him to the point that he began coughing like his waist was broken before Shi Yan came to his senses and released his grip a little. He looked into his clear pair of eyes, “He Nuo, I’m sorry.”
“No, it has nothing to do with you. If I didn’t lie to them, I might already be in college by now.” He Nuo went to pick his books up, Shi Yan squatted down by his side. He Nuo looked up again and said with a bit of difficulty, “Shi Yan, if my Pa scolds you, don’t get angry, you can just leave. And if they don’t agree to let me resume classes, could you not contradict them please?”
He Nuo was worried that with Shi Yan’s arrogant personality and how he was used to being the one issuing orders, he might end up getting into a dispute with his parents if they rejected him. He was worried for Shi Yan too. He thought that it was almost impossible for Shi Yan to convince his family, but he couldn’t stop Shi Yan from walking into this wall by himself, so he wanted to inject him with a preventive shot first.
He Nuo had abandoned all hope in his heart. He was used to suppressing his pain in the bottom of his heart and never touching it again. When something like that had happened, he had felt incredibly ashamed; then he fell sick, lost a friend, failed his college entrance examination, and his dreams were dashed. His wish had always been to enroll in a college and possess a piece of his own sky; after he graduated and went someplace else, he would send some money back to his family and everyone would have a good life, even though he himself didn’t exactly know what his definition of a ‘good life’ was.
After he sorted his books out, He Nuo stood up and immediately felt dizzy. He staggered a little before Shi Yan hurriedly supported him, “What’s wrong?”
He Nuo spoke with his eyes closed, “I forgot, and stood up like this again. The master at work said that I might have low blood pressure so I need to stand up slowly.” A few seconds later, he felt okay, so He Nuo carried his books onto his table.
Shi Yan still felt worried, so he pushed him to his bedside and made him next to his blanket, “Do you usually feel discomfort anywhere else?”
He Nuo shook his head. He asked Shi Yan how he knew that he was at the family station, and curiously asked how his college was like. How do colleges teach their lessons, and how do the students study there?
Shi Yan began talking about everything: from his travels after graduation, to entering his college, dropping out, then how he entered another college. He lowered his voice when he realised that He Nuo had closed his eyes, though he continued his vivid storytelling. This restrained clarity sent He Nuo into his first restful sleep after their last separation. He Nuo fell asleep — he slept soundly, and he was very relaxed too. The bowstring of this badly frightened person that had been tensed up for the past several months actually relaxed in front of the person who had used violence against him. Shi Yan’s voice continued to ring out as he looked at the face of the person who was deep asleep in front of him; his mellow descriptions sounded just like the constant gurgling of a mountain spring.
After he finished talking, Shi Yan recounted everything that had happened after they parted to the He Nuo who was in dreamland. He quietly got up as he planned to get a book to read it to He Nuo, but a form on his table caught his attention: it was a recruitment form. He picked up the recruitment newspaper that had a copy of a college entrance examination sign up form attached to it — information on the type of work, number of students they were recruiting and the basic wage of the factory were included in it.
Shi Yan cast a glance at what He Nuo had filled in, which corresponded to a column in the recruitment newspaper. Everything he applied for was some kind of field work that other people wouldn’t be willing to do but would grant its workers a subsidy (for example, road repair, which is similar to the work of migrant workers), subsidies were specially listed out because there weren’t many applicants for this kind of work. He Nuo didn’t dare to deceive his family and make decisions for himself anymore, so these were all jobs that He Nuo had applied for after he listened to his mother’s opinions. He was upset over not being able to build a sky for himself, but he still had to face reality afterwards. Applying for this kind of work had two purposes: the first was that it paid a higher wage, and the second was that its workers would be able to stay in a dormitory so he wouldn’t need to annoy his family anymore. After he filled in the recruitment form, he showed it to his parents. His mother was very satisfied with his obedience this time, while his father merely sneered and ignored him.
After he put the form back on the table, he walked back and sat next to He Nuo. His hand lightly caressed his pale and sunken cheeks. After a long while passed, Shi Yan slowly moved He Nuo into his arms, and the He Nuo who had been shifted also moved a little. Shi Yan held his icy cold hands and passed his warmth over, then the person in his arms calmed down. Shi Yan raised his arms up to his mouth before slowly caressing each and every one of his wounds — even his pitch-black fingernails. Then, he couldn’t hold his feelings back as he bent over and lowered his head, and his lips landed on the other’s lips that were covered in a layer of frost.
He woke up in Shi Yan’s embrace. He Nuo was filled with a myriad of complex and complicated feelings, like embarrassment, guilt, shame, joy and fear. He had just moved a little when Shi Yan moved as well and his arms around him tightened. Shi Yan took a key ring out of his pocket — there was a nail clipper on it — then began to carefully help him clip off the darkness at the edges of his nails. Because of He Nuo’s part-time work, his fingernails would always be stained and these stains could never be washed off no matter what. He Nuo had used a scissors at home to clean it up, but it had always been inconvenient for him when he tried to use his left hand to clip off the fingernails on his right hand. Shi Yan was afraid of waking him up just now, so he waited until now to help him clean his nails.