Shi Yan finally conquered his disease and fended off his high fever. In the end, the doctors could only classify it as a bacterial infection that was caused by some natural calamity; because this year, the entire nation was fighting off floods, rescuing people and providing disaster relief, so they traced his inexplicable symptoms to the recent change in their natural climate. Fortunately, Shi Yan was physically very fit and he had a good constitution, so he managed to resist the life of being a human boiler for the past 20 days. Since he was just discharged, it was inevitable for his body to have a deficiency of Qi, so he was still being nourished with soups at home all day long.
But Shi Yan couldn’t stay still any longer. His thoughts were all revolving around He Nuo. Was his throat better now? On the second day after his discharge, he looked for Wang Feng to send him to He Nuo’s house on his bike, because he would collapse if he rode his bike for about 10 to 15 minutes. Wang Feng wasn’t willing to go over at first because he had just been discharged, plus he didn’t want to happily wag his tail over to look for He Nuo. But he couldn’t stand Shi Yan’s insistence, so he just went along with his wish.
When they reached the row where He Nuo’s house was situated at, Shi Yan got off the bike and walked over by himself. Wang Feng left after he saw Shi Yan enter He Nuo’s house (Wang Feng thought that He Nuo wasn’t being a good friend, so he didn’t want to enter his house). It had only been a short 10 metres, but Shi Yan’s cotton shirt was completely drenched with sweat. He Nuo’s voice sounded mostly normal right now, but the ulcers on his mouth haven’t recovered.
The two of them were silent for awhile, but He Nuo first broke the stalemate, “You’re so weak, you should be resting at home.”
“I want you to listen to me for a bit, I won’t lie this time.”
“You don’t need to say anything, you really don’t. Just go back and have a good rest ba.”
“Qin Mingxu was chasing his girlfriend.” Shi Yan said this sentence out of the blue.
He Nuo uttered a response, but didn’t probe any further. He wasn’t curious about other people’s private affairs.
“When we were playing around in a social club1, Mingxu liked one of the singers there called Gong Fang, so he started to pursue her. Gong Fang studies music, she’s a second year. She wasn’t too enthusiastic about Mingxu, but Mingxu always dragged us all over to support her.”
He Nuo knew that their bunch was just muddling their way through college, so he wasn’t surprised that they would go to those kinds of places.
“Gong Fang has a very good relationship with another girl in the social club, she said that she was her junior. When Mingxu invited Gong Fang out for a meal, we accompanied him too and that girl Bei Gege was there, so that’s how we got to know each other. After that, whenever we went there, we often chatted and ate together.”
Shi Yan was sneaking peeks at He Nuo’s expression as he spoke, but he got nothing.
“Later on, Mingxu told me Gong Fang said that Bei Gege likes me, so she wanted him to set us up. Mingxu was pursuing her relentlessly at the time, so of course he would agree to anything she said. I told Mingxu that I wasn’t interested in Bei Gege at all, but he told me to treat it as I was doing him a favour and to just deal with her first. Then once he got Gong Fang, I wouldn’t need to accompany him to the club anymore and I wouldn’t have anything to do with Bei Gege after that. Or else, he still wouldn’t have been able to ask Gong Fang out until now.”
“You should be tired ba, go back.”
“You still don’t believe me?” Shi Yan was extremely anxious, “Everything I said was the truth. I’m not trying to shirk any responsibility or excuse myself.”
“I believe you, but what’s the point?”
“Even if you don’t think there’s a point, can you let me finish?” Shi Yan could barely sit still, “Don’t death penalty criminals get a last chance to speak too? You’ve already sentenced me to death, but now you don’t even want to bother listening to the reason behind my death sentence?”
“Then say it ba.”
He Nuo’s helpless appearance actually hurt Shi Yan a lot, his lover’s cold-heartedness was almost at the level of ruthlessness. Shi Yan suddenly felt like going all out and didn’t deliberate over his words as he observed He Nuo.
“After that, I often accompanied Mingxu, so it was often the four of us who would play together. There was one night when a whole bunch of us gathered at the club for a meal to celebrate Gong Fang’s birthday. We ate and played until it was pretty late, and drank a lot of alcohol too,” Shi Yan’s voice turned feeble, “then we didn’t go back to school.”
Shi Yan lowered his head. He Nuo had guessed that this would be the outcome. He didn’t want Shi Yan to continue because he wasn’t willing to listen to the “after that” that he already knew of. But, if he had just guessed the outcome, He Nuo could freeze himself to the spot before piercing through the paper windows; but when it was Shi Yan who had personally verified the outcome, his heart couldn’t remain numb anymore. He Nuo felt pain, and he felt so pained that he couldn’t say a single word.
When he saw He Nuo’s pale face, Shi Yan felt like it was too late for his regrets. But there was still something that was even more difficult to say, “That night, I might have been too drunk. I kept thinking that I was doing it with you, so I kept calling out ‘Nuonuo’. After that, I even hugged her as I said ‘Nuonuo, you haven’t shot it out yet, I’ll help you.’ I only knew all this later on, I couldn’t remember much of that night. It was only when I woke up next morning that I found out it was her.”
All colour had drained from He Nuo’s face, and his body was trembling involuntarily too. Shi Yan held him in his arms, “Nuonuo, don’t be like this, don’t. I know that I was wrong, I was wrong.”
“She knows it’s me now?” He Nuo backed out of his embrace.
Shi Yan’s gaze drifted away, then he nodded awkwardly.
He Nuo felt like he was falling into an abyss. He suddenly felt so uncomfortable that he wanted to puke, and his eyes were filled with grief. He remembered how he had gone to Shi Yan’s college and bumped into the two of them who were standing together intimately in front of him — and now that he looked back on all this, he just thought that it was really amusing and ridiculous. In the end, he was the one who played the role of the clown.
“After that?” He Nuo waited. He waited for Shi Yan to stab him a few more times. He was making things difficult for himself; he wanted to see if he could counteract poison with poison, to see if he could still feel pain when he was hurting so badly that he didn’t even know what pain was anymore.
“I was in a mess all day, but she asked me out at night through Mingxu. I thought that she had something to say about what had happened the day before, so I had to go. But there were a few other people there too. It was my first time going to the place where we took a cab to. It was very dark the moment we went in, and it was dark all the way until we went into a reserved room.” Shi Yan couldn’t continue anymore, “Don’t listen to this anymore, okay?”
“Make something up then, and do it well, don’t let me find any flaws in it.”
“It was a stripbar. At first, the others were watching and I didn’t care much; then afterwards a guy came in to dance. In the room, four candle balls that were soaking in wine cups were placed at the corners of the table. So Gong Fang’s colleague — everyone called him ‘Meng Ge’ — hug- hugged the guy onto his thighs and started touching him. He sat right next to me, everyone else was laughing. Then they left, and our topics after that all revolved around them. I, I- everyone was being very obscene, and they were talking dirty about how Meng Ge likes to pound guy’s asses. They told many stories about him. I didn’t know what I was thinking either, I just knew that I was sweating and nervous the whole time. After that, what I think Mingxu said was that it was cause he had been fucking women too often, so he went to buy a guy to fuck. And that guys who sold their asses were usually perverts.”
He Nuo bit down on his lips harshly. He didn’t say anything, and he didn’t look at Shi Yan either.
“I didn’t know when we left, I just knew that I was sweating a lot. When I snapped out of my daze, I was already with her. I asked her if she did it on purpose that night. She didn’t admit it, but she told me that it was respectable to look for prostitutes, but if it were pimps instead (Shi Yan only knew then what a pimp was), then those people weren’t considered normal. People would find them disgusting no matter how rich they were. She said that I was a really good catch, so I shouldn’t walk down such a perverted path.”
“I was both angry and panicky. I asked her what she knew, and what she said to Mingxu. She told me that she didn’t say anything, she just knew that we were good friends. After that, we talked for an entire night. I told her that I liked you, and it wasn’t because of that, then she retorted and said that our relationship wasn’t normal. I told her everything about us. We debated through the night — I’ll come up with an argument related to my feelings and she’ll retort with another argument. Whatever she retorted with was what I said to you afterwards. She said that because of my compassion and your fragility, I wanted to protect you to satisfy my pride as a man, and my protection became a habit, so…….”
“What surprised me the most was when she said that when men and women turned to prostitution, pimps were the ones who were despised the most in their club. She said that she really liked me, and said that even if I didn’t like her, she wanted me to lead a good life and not be discriminated against by others. She didn’t want other people to curse me for being a hoodlum and a pervert behind my back. Also, she said that if you were a good person, I shouldn’t continue to be with you for your sake. At that time I felt particularly upset and wanted to leave. She said that she hoped she could help me, and accompany me through the difficult days I would have to endure after leaving you.”
“I never thought of breaking up with you at that time. I told her that I wanted to wait until you were done with your exams. But you had already found out. When I asked you to come out, I felt both conflicted and distressed. But I hated your indifference, so I said it. And I regretted it as soon as the words came out of my mouth, because I had never wanted to say that to you. All the words that I blurted out were her usual analyses that had filled up my mind at the time.”