Chapter 16 — The Earthquake: Part 1
Edited by Tin
In the blink of an eye, it was March, yet the weather seemed to have no intentions of turning warmer. This winter was truly way too long.
Now, Zhou Hao was already in the second semester of his second year in his masters program. In the affiliated hospital where he was currently doing his attachment, around a dozen doctors had been dispatched to Taishui General Hospital in the south for an exchange, and his preceptor was going along as well. Zhou Hao had been handpicked by that very preceptor to come along, and the exchange would last for two months.
Although the time period was not long, it could be considered a long trip. Zhou Hao planned on saying goodbye to Jiang Yuqian.
With countless previous experiences, Zhou Hao had long stopped hoping that his call would be picked up. Instead, he went straight to the door of Jiang Yuqian’s house.
Fortunately, the weather now had improved a lot from the last time. At the very least, he was not frozen to the point where his teeth were chattering, and his extremities numb.
In the evening, Jiang Yuqian’s black Mercedes Benz appeared, and Zhou Hao immediately stopped it.
Jiang Yuqian wound the window down, his tone distant. “What do you want?”
“I have something to tell you.”
Zhou Hao pulled the door open, sitting in the passenger seat. The heating in the car warmed up his entire body, and he rubbed his somewhat stiff hands. “In a few days, I’m going to a city in the south. I’ll be there for two months, so I came to see you before leaving.”
Jiang Yuqian had no reaction. Towards such words of geniality, he had long been tired of them.”
“That’s it.” Zhou Hao turned to look at the person next to him. His throat bobbed, and biting his lip, he faltered before saying, “Alright, we’ve seen each other already. I’m going back.”
Just as he touched the door handle, Zhou Hao again hesitantly withdrew his hand. He would just treat it as a farewell gesture before his departure.
He leaned towards Jiang Yuqian, holding on tightly to that man’s head. Tyrannically, he attacked and invaded the other man’s lips.
Perhaps it was desire making mischief, or maybe it was the taste of tobacco in Zhou Hao’s mouth that turned his mind blank, Jiang Yuqian actually responded passionately.
Their tongues entwined, each desperately trying to steal the breath of the other. After kissing for some time, even their lips had turned numb, smeared with the other person’s saliva. It was only when they were almost out of breath, were the two pairs of lips willing to part.
Zhou Hao pressed lightly on his lips with his middle finger. Laughing lightly, he licked his lips. “I knew it, you feel it as well.”
With such a long kiss, his lips were a little swollen, the colour even turning a bright red.
He did not wait for Jiang Yuqian to reply, swiftly pushing the door open and heading out into the chilly wind of the night. Walking so hurriedly and urgently away, was he afraid that that person would say something?
He knew too well the theory of quitting while he was ahead.
Three days later, Zhou Hao flew towards Taishui City.
It was a southern city, circling a mountain. Its population was dense, and the standard of living there was average. Their dialect had a lilt to it, and was loud and resounding. As such, on the streets, you would think that the two people were arguing, but they were actually just chatting.
The first day Zhou Hao arrived, he took a few photos and sent them to Jiang Yuqian. The photos included one of him in front of the airport, one at the foot of the mountain, and one at the door of Taishui General Hospital.
His poses were all of the same kind, standing up straight with his arms by the side. It looked a little like how people in the older generations would pose for a photo.
To tell the truth, Zhou Hao was handsome, but the way he posed in his photos was too old fashioned.
The pace of life here was slower. In the morning, one would always be able to see older couples hand-in-hand crossing the street, heading to the market with a grocery bag, or people of all ages having breakfast in restaurants. Right, the breakfast here was very famous as well, one of the best in the south. Whether it was soup dumplings, shumai, prawn dumplings, or wantons, they had them all here. The food seemed rather unassuming, but with just a bite, it could make one an addict.
Following his preceptor here, Zhou Hao was supposed to be on a study exchange. However, in actual fact, there was nothing much for him to do, other than when his preceptor was seeing patients, he would stand by the side as an assistant.
During the couple of weeks in Taishui so far, Zhou Hao could have been said to have spent his time leisurely. He had tried out most of the local specialties, and visited all the famous streets and old towns. It was just that occasionally, when he lifted his head, looking at the sky, a stretch of azure accompanied by fluffy white clouds, he always felt that something was missing.
Later on, at last, he gradually felt like a stranger in a foreign place. This place was very nice, but at the end of the day, it was not his home. Since it was not his home, wherever he went, he was only drifting about.
Thinking about home, he quickly thought about Jiang Yuqian. In his subconscious, he, Zhou Hao, had probably always viewed that person as family.
Their Wechat conversation had been on a hold since half a month ago, when Zhou Hao sent him those photos. Zhou Hao stared at his phone, his brain swiftly working, imagining that person’s expression when he saw those photos.
“Did he see the photos or not?” Zhou Hao mumbled to himself.
With his frown, and his look of focus, he was just like an old man in his golden years.
Had he seen them yet? Did he see them at all… How long-winded, yet Zhou Hao did not realise he was being like this.
Right now, it was seven in the evening on a Sunday. Zhou Hao believed that that person need not be working overtime today, so he tapped into his contact list and found “Qianqian”, then dialled the number.
“Du du du—” Each ring seemed to be pulling on the tense nerve in his brain, both painful and nerve wracking.
“I’m sorry, the number you’ve just called is busy at the moment…” Jiang Yuqian had rejected the call.
The words that Zhou Hao had been going over and over did not even have a chance to be spoken, and were immediately obstructed. He could only walk back to his residence, step by step.
His pace was very very slow, like a ghost drifting about with nowhere to go. Under the streetlights, his shadow was very long, and very alone…
“Why didn’t you answer the call?” Cheng Zixu asked.
Jiang Yuqian tossed his phone casually on the table, his expression aloof. “It was a wrong number.” With a knife in his left hand and a fork in his right, he continued cutting into the foie gras on his plate.
Although Cheng Zixu was doubtful, he did not continue asking. Cheng Jinghao’s eyelashes fluttered down, a peculiar light flashing across her eyes. She understood what had happened.
As his sister was interning in Jiang Yuqian’s office, Cheng Zixu would drop by and pick his sister up from work every few days. With such frequent appearances, he would always bump into Jiang Yuqian. On some days, they would take the opportunity and have a meal together.
Zhou Hao did not know about this, as Jiang Yuqian naturally would not tell him about it. However, Yan Ming had bumped into them a few times. These incidents had happened before Zhou Hao left A City.
Of course, Yan Ming had never mentioned it to Zhou Hao too.
Sometimes, thinking about how Jiang Yuqian was having an affair with his lover, while that friend of his was completely clueless, from the bottom of his heart, Yan Ming’s heart ached for Zhou Hao. Despite how that person usually looked so arrogant and proud, his heart was actually made of glass, able to shatter with just one touch.
“Boss, once we’re done with our current work, are you going to give us time off?” Cheng Jinghao asked half-jokingly.
Recently, they had accepted a huge project, working with an international Fortune 500 company that dealt with software. Everyone in the company had been working overtime for a month already.
These days, Jiang Yuqian had been busy to the point of exhaustion as well. This first major project of his was very important, and he gave it very serious attention.
“How many days off do you want? Is ten days enough?”
“How is that enough?” Cheng Jinghao deliberately pulled her brother into the conversation. “Ge, quick, help me convince my boss to give me more days off!”
Cheng Jinghao was clever, and she had long seen that her boss was interested in her brother. She knew as well that Jiang Yuqian had another man too. However, that was not important. As adults, they had physiological needs, and she guessed that that man should be her boss’s fuckbuddy or something.
Jiang Yuqian put his cutlery down, carefully dabbing his mouth with a napkin. He raised an eyebrow at Cheng Zixu. “How do you think your brother would convince me?”
“Isn’t that simple? I’ll just throw my brother at you. Whatever you want to do to him, it’s all up to you.” Cheng Jinghao played along.
“Xiao-Jing! What nonsense are you saying?!” Cheng Zixu, who had been remaining silent the whole time, spoke up in displeasure.
“Ge, you don’t live at home so you don’t know. Just go home and ask our parents, and you’ll know how your sister has been leaving early and coming home late, or even not be able to come home at all. I’m about to lay my life down for the company already.”
Jiang Yuqian was still staring at Cheng Zixu, his eyes brimming with emotions. He said, “One month. Once this project is completed, I’ll give you a month off, and it’ll be paid.”
“Thank you, boss!” She fluttered her eyelashes at Cheng Zixu. “It’s all thanks to my brother!”
Jiang Yuqian first sent Cheng Jinghao back home, then drove Cheng Zixu to No.1 Binjiang.
“Why aren’t you living at home?”
“There’s more freedom living alone.” Cheng Zixu turned to look at Jiang Yuqian. Hesitantly, he asked, “What about… that boyfriend of yours? You’re living together.”
Jiang Yuqian slammed on the brakes abruptly. Unprepared, Cheng Zixu was thrown forward.
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Jiang Yuqian’s tone was very hard, and even seemed vaguely furious.
Cheng Zixu too felt that he had been a little brusque. Why did he have to poke his nose into other people’s business? However, he felt somewhat discomfited. He did not like that Jiang Yuqian was living with that Zhou Hao.
As for why, he himself could not think of the reason as well. He just felt very anxious about it, and a sense of discomfort.
“I… I was only asking casually. Didn’t you guys… never mind.” Cheng Zixu was a little incoherent.
Suddenly, Jiang Yuqian leant towards him, kissing him. Like a fool, Cheng Zixu froze, allowing Jiang Yuqian to have his way.
The sweet, lingering kiss was very pure, very innocent. Within it was the happy times of their high school period, and a feeling of ease from being long-time friends since young.
This taste, compared to the taste of Zhou Hao, was completely different. Between Zhou Hao and him, things had always been rough and hasty, while this kiss, in all these years, had been his most earnest, shyest one. It was as though he was a virgin in the dawning of his first love.
Pulling apart, the two people’s breaths were a little heavy, and the amorous atmosphere swirled around within the car.
“Let’s be in a relationship.” Again, another confession.
Cheng Zixu was dizzy from the kiss. In a trance, he replied, “Let me think about it.”
Jiang Yuqian did not force this man anymore. Starting his car, he drove him back.
At night, Jiang Yuqian walked out from his bathroom, his hair still wet. As water droplets dripped down, he dimly recalled Zhou Hao, how he always dried his hair for him. Sitting on the bed, he called that person.
This rare moment of affection, was like a gift from heavens.
“Oi, what do you want?” Zhou Hao was delighted, but his mouth was still stubborn. “If there’s nothing, I’m going to sleep.”
“Are you getting used to it over there?”
“Yes, I’m pretty good here. It’s just that there’s not many luxury stores here, and there’s nowhere to use your card. Are you showing me con…”
Before he could finish the word “concern”, Zhou Hao was interrupted.
“Sleep early, I’m hanging up.”
There were still many things in Zhou Hao’s heart that he wished to say to that man, but he had already disconnected. With just that one short phone call, that night, Zhou Hao was unable to sleep.
Ever since young, the thing he wanted the most was to have a family. When he had a headache or a fever, there would be someone showing him concern. When he went on a long trip, there would be someone calling him, asking him if he was getting used to it, if he was adapting to the place.
Tonight, he thought his wish had been fulfilled.
He would never know about Jiang Yuqian’s frame of mind that night, that the man had long decided on kicking him aside to flit off with his beloved, that this call happened only because of a flash of guilt that suddenly appeared within that person…
Because he did not know all of these things, like a fool, Zhou Hao was needlessly happy for a very, very long time.