Title: Unshakeable determination
– Past –
Since the day Jiang Xiaoning lost control of his emotions by his words and rushed out through the door, Han Jia had not heard from him for one consecutive week.
He met Manli’s daughter, Xiao Rong, and avoided Xin Muran, arranging a place for Xiao Rong himself. He and Xin Muran worked together in a cooperative manner. He had to deal with the matters at Jin Ting and many other people; he had no time to think about Jiang Xiaoning.
He also did not intend to give himself any chance to think about it. Since that day, he had been living in Jin Ting and had yet to return to his place.
When Jiang Xiaoning called him, he was leaning against a sofa in Jin Ting, listening to Xin Muran’s brilliant idea about Jin Ting’s accounts.
As soon as the ringtone sounded, he immediately knew that it was Jiang Xiaoning – although he had mingled with a mixture of good people and scumbags for all these years, the expression on Han Jia’s face was still a bit soft.
Xin Muran seemed to notice that something was amiss but also seemed not to have noticed at the same time. He glanced at him without pausing the words coming out of his mouth.
Han Jia took out his phone and immediately hung up on the call then after thinking about it for a moment, he put it on silent mode and placed it back in his pocket.
Zhang Xueming was still talking, but Han Jia was completely unable to calm down and listen. His posture and expression may not have changed, but his heart was already in a mess. In one moment, he wanted Xin Muran to disappear from his sight but then in the next moment, he thought that it was better if Xin Muran continued to talk so that he had no time to hesitate on whether or not to accept Jiang Xiaoning’s call.
In the end, after sitting for a while like this, he couldn’t endure it anymore and waved his hand: “You can go upstairs, Xiao Ma knows the most about the accounts. If you have any other questions, come back to ask me later.”
Xin Muran smiled and looked at him again, “I understand, Han Laoban.”
Han Jia watched him turn around and went out of the door, then suddenly lost his courage and sat in a daze. He took out his phone once more.
The screen flashed silently, revealing the caller to be “Jiang Laoban”.
Han Jia stared at the three characters until the call ended, and the words “12 missed calls” displayed on the screen. His eyes hurt with these words, but he couldn’t bear to shift his gaze.
The screen flashed again; it was still “Jiang Laoban”.
Han Jia took a deep breath, stood up, walked to the window, and received the call.
“What’s the matter?” He said coldly without waiting for the other person to speak.
The person was silent, and for some time, Han Jia only heard shallow breathing.
He frowned, and just as he was about to say, “I’m hanging up if there’s nothing,” he heard Jiang Xiaoning laugh.
The laugh was a bit frantic, seemingly frivolous; Han Jia had never heard him laugh like this before.
Jiang Xiaoning finished laughing and asked in a low voice: “Han Jia, Han Jia, why haven’t you returned home?”
Feeling as though his own question rhymed and had a rhythm to it, he laughed again and then repeated it very rhythmically. “Han Jia, Han Jia, why haven’t you returned home…?
Han Jia’s complexion changed, and he asked with a stern voice: “Are you drunk?”
Jiang Xiaoning laughed again, Han Jia held the phone tightly and listened to him laughing.
As the laughter faded, Jiang Xiaoning was quiet for a couple of seconds then slowly and clearly said: “I’m sitting in the balcony at your place looking down, the kiosk is as big as my little fingernail. It’s quite interesting.”
Han Jia was shocked. His voice shook when he spoke: “Xiaoning—”
“I’ll wait for you for 20 minutes,” Jiang Xiaoning interrupted him. His voice didn’t fluctuate until he finished the sentence and hung up.
Han Jia anxiously called again, but Jiang Xiaoning had shut down his phone.
He couldn’t control his uncontrollable heartbeat just as he couldn’t control his footsteps. Han Jia turned and rushed to the door, almost as if he wanted to charge at it.
But before he could touch the handle, the door was pushed open by someone on the other side.
Han Jia frowned at Xin Muran and whispered: “Get out of the way.”
Xin Muran said with a blank expression: “Han Laoban, Mr. Zhou is here to see you.”
Han Jia was taken aback and listened to Xin Muran add: “He’s in the lobby right now.”
“I’m in a hurry. I’ll go through the side door first.” Han Jia felt that he had never been so irritated in his life. “Go and ask him to go back and say—”
“Say what?” A cold, harsh voice interrupted him, and Zhou Shijie appeared at the corner of the stairs.
Xin Muran took a step back without saying anything. Han Jia and this Mr. Zhou had played so many “games,” yet he still couldn’t understand his temper. He tried to calm down and cautiously took two steps forward, looked at his uncertain expression, and smiled just the slightest. “If I finish up, I’ll immediately go over to you, Mr. Zhou.”
Zhou Shijie snorted, took a few steps forward, and reached out to grab his chin: “You’ve changed the date quite a few times already, and now that I personally came to you, you still have something to do.”
Han Jia blinked and smiled softly: “If I didn’t have something to take care of, of course, I’ll go and find you.”
Zhou Shijie frowned and looked at him; the lens of the glasses reflected under the corridor light. Han Jia could not distinguish his eyes. Before he had time to say anything, Zhou Shijie let go of his chin and held his shoulder instead. He then lowered his head slightly and bit heavily into his neck.
The bite caused pain. Zhou Shijie sometimes liked to bite him, but it had never been this severe. Han Jia even felt for a moment that his neck was about to be bitten off. He didn’t dare to move and only took small breaths.
Zhou Shijie quickly raised his head and looked at the bite marks that he had made for a while, with his breathing gradually becoming urgent. He turned to glare at Xin Muran, and said coldly, “Leave now.”
Xin Muran hesitated and whispered: “Mr. Zhou, Han Laoban has an appoint—”
“Get lost,” Zhou Shijie’s voice was short and cold as if not in touch with reality.
Xin Muran glanced at Han Jia and only said “okay” and turned away.
Without waiting for Zhang Xueming’s back to disappear, Han Jia stepped forward and grabbed Zhou Shijie’s jacket. He anxiously said: “Mr. Zhou, I am really in a hurry. I didn’t know that you were coming to see me today, I—”
“Is it because of him?” Zhou Shijie looked at him behind the reflective lens and asked calmly.
“What?” Han Jia asked intuitively.
“I said, was that person just now, Zhang Xueming?” Zhou Shijie lowered his head and began to lick his ears. “You have never taken the initiative to change the date before, but you have been postponing the appointments with me. Is it because of him?” Without giving Han Jia a chance to speak, he grabbed Han Jia’s hair and forced him to hold his head back in an awkward position and began to lick his lips. “Do you hate him?…… I’ve only recently learned that my father has been defending him. If you hate me because of that, I can help you get rid of him right away.…”
“No, it’s not necessary. I’m really in a hurry…” Han Jia gasped uncomfortably, closed his eyes, and pushed hard.
Zhou Shijie didn’t expect him actually to refuse and took a step back to steady himself. He brows twisted and the hand gripping Han Jia’s hair tighter even more. Han Jia exhaled painfully.
The angle changed; Zhou Shijie’s glasses were no longer reflective. Not only could Han Jia clearly see his angry and excited eyes, but he could also feel the tips of his fingers shaking.
He softly gasped for breath and thought of Jiang Xiaoning’s frivolous and painful laughter, his threat that made him panicked, Zhou Shijie’s torments, Zhou Shijie’s words, and how Zhou Shijie had once said, “I heard others say that you’re especially attractive when you smile, actually when you cry…” …finally, he stopped struggling, looked straight into Mr. Zhou’s eyes, and forced his tears out.
“Mr. Zhou, you’ve always been good to me.” He was almost begging as he spoke, a line of tears ran down his cheeks, and the tip of his tongue felt bitter, “I’ll go see you tomorrow, okay? I’ll definitely go tomorrow.”
Zhou Shijie didn’t say a word as he pulled him away a bit to study him; the color of his eyes was deep black.
Han Jia felt that he was going to be struck frozen with those eyes. He didn’t know if he had used the right card. He didn’t know whether the tears would make the man in front of him soften up or become crueler. What if it didn’t work? What if it backfired? There were sharp weapons and heavy objects in the room. Could he actually offend both the father and son of the Zhou family like this? What would Qing-Ye say? Where was Xiao Li? What was Jiang Xiaoning doing? What would he do if he didn’t arrive in 20 minutes?……
Time had somehow stretched out, as long as tens of times and hundreds of times longer than usual. Han Jia felt as if he was going crazy; he was shaking and looking desperately at Zhou Shijie with tearful eyes.
Zhou Shijie looked at him for a while and then coldly said: “Tomorrow at six o’clock in the evening, show up on time.”
Then he leaned in and licked the bite mark between his shoulder and neck before finally letting go.
Han Jia breathed a sigh of relief, turned around, and ran off without bothering to reply. It was only then did he realize how weak his legs felt.
He rushed down the stairs and ran directly to the side entrance. Xin Muran was already standing here, next to a taxi with a cigarette in his mouth and blowing smoke.
“I called you a taxi.” His eyes roamed over Han Jia’s face, “I don’t think you’d necessarily want me to drive you if you’re thinking of getting away.”
Han Jia couldn’t even think of a verbal response as he rushed to sit in the passenger seat and quickly informed the driver of his address.
The taxi started, and the driver glanced at his face, asking concernedly: “Sir, are you feeling uncomfortable?”
He waved his hand, indicating that he had no intention of chatting, his eyes were fixed on the road in front of him, and he kept urging the driver to hurry up, to go faster.
When the car stopped in front of his apartment building, he remembered that he hadn’t taken the money out in advance. His shaking his hands felt for the wallet, and not knowing how many bills he had actually tossed to the driver, he pushed open the car door and ran out.
The distance from the door to the elevator pained him, the speed of the elevator pained him, and even the distance from the elevator to the door pained him.
He didn’t know if he had gotten there in 20 minutes. He took out the key in a panic to open the door, and shouted: “Xiaoning, Xiaoning…”
For some reason, the key refused to fit in the keyhole – he kept inhaling as something warm slid down to his lips again, each more bitter than the previous ones.
When he finally opened the door and rushed in, and saw a figure leaning forward on the balcony rail with his back facing him, he collapsed on the ground without closing the door, feeling as if all the strength in his body had been exhausted.
Han Jia gasped for air, and after a while, he pulled a towel off the sofa next to him and wiped his face before he stood up and closed the door. He sauntered to the balcony door, turned on the light there, leaned against the door, and whispered: “Are you crazy?”
Jiang Xiaoning seemed to laugh, turned around, and stretched his hands back on the railing, looking at him in silence.
Han Jia was speechless, he felt that something had changed in Jiang Xiaoning, but he couldn’t tell what.
He seemed a little taller than when they first met, his hair had grown a little longer, and as the night wind blew, his hair fluttered, making him look more like a child.
However, his eyes were so deep that they didn’t fit his age at all – his pupils were so dark and gloomy that they exceeded even that of the night sky.
“I waited for half an hour,” he said, looking at Han Jia with such eyes. “I was furious, but then I saw you running out of the taxi, running so fast… Han Jia, are you worried about me, or are you afraid of not being able to explain to my dad?”
Han Jia looked at him and asked coldly, “You didn’t drink?”
Jiang Xiaoning stared at Han Jia, then lowered his eyes and bent down to pick up his bag from the floor, holding it in one hand, and taking out a bottle of white liquor in the other.
“I was going to drink it.” He said, lifting the bottle high up and casually flinging it to the floor. The bottle smashed to pieces, and as the night breeze brushed by, the fragrance of liquor diffused.
He took out another bottle with his eyes still solely on Han Jia, then put his hand with the bottle behind his back and slammed it on the rail.
The bottle broke at the neck, Jiang Xiaoning raised it over his head and poured it down.
His hair instantly became wet; the liquor flowed along the contours of his face, but he didn’t blink his eyes.
His firm gaze made Han Jia’s heart tightened. He watched him throw away the empty bottle, took out a pack of cigarettes, and held one between his lips.
Jiang Xiaoning threw the bag on the floor, took out a lighter from his pocket, and fling it on his hand twice, but didn’t light the cigarette. Then, looking directly at Han Jia, he took a step toward him: “I had thought about it all initially, getting drunk, smoking a cigarette, and sitting on your balcony waiting for you to return and then ask, how did you make me become like this?”
Han Jia froze for a moment, then asked in a low voice: “Why did you change your mind?”
“I don’t know.” Jiang Xiaoning also lowered his voice; a voice that still held the freshness of a young man; however, once suppressed, it sounded very fragile. “Han Jia, I had it all planned out. I wanted you to regret treating me like that, to let you know how much pain I was in… but I regretted it all instead. I was afraid that if I made myself like that, you will only ridicule me and say that I’m useless.” A rustling sound could be heard; Han Jia put down the hand that he had covered his eyes and saw that not only had Jiang Xiaoning already taken the cigarette out of his mouth, he had also turned back and pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper from his bag. “Later, I thought of showing you this…”
He handed over the paper with one hand, with an expression like he was afraid that Han Jia would not take it. Han Jia hesitated, but still took the paper and unrolled it.
It was a math exam, with bright red checkmarks, and a score of 150 points.
Han Jia wanted to laugh, and even the corner of his lips rose, but he couldn’t laugh at all.
“Han Jia,” Jiang Xiaoning called him. “Do you think that I’m useless? Easily deceived by you, fooled by you, don’t know how to fight, and can’t do anything to help you… is that what you think?” He waited for a while, but when Han Jia didn’t speak, Jiang Xiaoning’s voice rose with extreme anger that shook – however. “Yes, I am useless! I know… I want to prove to you that I am useful, but I only can produce a paper… but, I’ll always be useful, Han Jia, I’ll always—”
“What the hell is this?” Han Jia interrupted and looked at him coldly. “Jiang Xiaoning, did you forget what I said? Even if you forgot what I said, do you remember what you said yourself? What kind of person am I, what kind of person are you, you know that very well in your heart. The way that… the way that you are now, aren’t you afraid of embarrassing your father!”
“Why should I be afraid of embarrassing him? What does this have to do with him?!” Jiang Xiaoning stared at him with anger; the anger in his eyes seemed to burn fiercely as if it was poured with gasoline, “You said those things to me and said those things about yourself, you… what are you afraid of? The fact that you sleep with other people, I knew that long ago. The words on your back, I knew about them as well. What kind of person you are, of course, I knew that too ah, and when you drugged me, I knew it, I knew them all!” He shouted; he was the kind person that was easily moved emotionally. “Do you actually think that I don’t understand anything?”
“Since you understand, then why did you come here?” Han Jia paused and said word by word, “Aren’t you being cheap?”
This sentence didn’t work as it should. Jiang Xiaoning looked at him and firmly replied: “Yes, I am cheap.”
Han Jia looked at him in disbelief and only became angry after a long while: “What do you mean?”
“I said that I’m cheap. What don’t you understand?” Jiang Xiaoning yelled; his expression was like a ferocious little beast that looked as though he hadn’t noticed that his own eyes were wet. He stepped forward and grabbed Han Jia by the collar. “The wound here, it’s obviously made by a man with just one glance. It’s not the first day that I’ve seen it, nor have I’ve only seen it once. If I’m not cheap, how could I have endured this? If I’m not cheap, how could I know that you… I also… how can I…” His tears finally shed, but he didn’t care about it and only looked at Han Jia. “That’s why I’m cheap…”
Han Jia’s eyes widened as he looked at Jiang Xiaoning. The meaning behind Jiang Xiaoning’s words frightened him. He wanted to scold him, push him away, and let him cry here; he even wanted to run to Jiang Laoshi and have him take his son home.
He wanted to tell Jiang Xiaoning, ‘you belong to someone else’.
The day that he stepped into Jin Ting, he knew that there were many beautiful sceneries in the world. But they belong to others. He could pass by, smile for them, and indulge in them, but in the end, he would leave – with regrets, with nostalgia – far away and never look back.
An innocent and ordinary life was that scenery – Jiang Xiaoning was that scenery.
He wanted to tell Jiang Xiaoning, ‘I have already passed by you’. He wanted to say, ‘you should wait patiently, the one worthy of you will come, heal your loneliness, erase your sadness, sing your happiness, and be with you forever’. He wanted to say, ‘I am not that person, and I will never be the person worthy of you.’
There were a hundred ways for him to turn around, but he couldn’t move at all.
Jiang Xiaoning stood in front of him emotionally, his eyes were as bright as gems, his heart was hotter than flames, and he spoke the most beautiful words in the world – a body soaked in a tantalizing aroma of liquor that intoxicated people.
This young man was irritable and gentle, fragile and robust, simple and complicated, and had already shaken the wall around his heart.
This young man was strongly attached to him, had vigorously pursued him like a winged insect chasing a flame, and like the strong smell of liquor, sought him out – and this youth seemed to contain a world of passion, stubbornness, and unrelenting heat in his body.
And what about him? When he thought that something was going to happen to him, and desperately drove home, that kind of panic, fear, and pain that he had never felt before almost killed him. What was there for him to be scared of? What was he scared of?
Han Jia could no longer look at him. He took a step back. He wanted to leave the heat that enveloped him. He wanted to find his sense of morality, sense of responsibility, and guilt for his former teacher.
He flinched slightly, Jiang Xiaoning rushed forward, and the momentum made Han Jia back up several steps until Jiang Xiaoning pressed him on the sofa.
He looked at Jiang Xiaoning and felt that he was about to be lit on fire by the heat on his body.
“Han Jia, Han Jia.” Jiang Xiaoning stared at him with a sort of anger that held sorrow in his eyes. “I love you. Do you love me? Do you love me?”
Han Jia trembled uncontrollably. He opened his mouth but couldn’t say anything. Jiang Xiaoning misunderstood his reaction, and the sadness in his eyes turned into despair.
“Han Jia, I love you. Don’t you understand?” He reduced his request, changed the way he questioned him, and even lowered his tone.
Han Jia took a deep breath and wanted to calm his beating heart – Jiang Xiaoning lowered his head and kissed it.
Han Jia pushed him away by pressing his shoulders, but Jiang Xiaoning hugged him and refused to let go. The two were entangled for a moment before Han Jia finally managed to push Jiang Xiaoning aside so that he was now laying on the sofa, panting.
Han Jia turned over and straddled him, breathing harder than he was.
Their eyes locked, and time seemed to stand still. Jiang Xiaoning stretched out his hand to touch him, but Han Jia pressed his hands to his sides.
“Don’t move.” Han Jia leaned forward as his breath spilled on Jiang Xiaoning’s neck. His voice was so low that he didn’t feel like himself, “I took the initiative, Xiaoning, remember, I took the initiative.”