Edited by PohTahTvh
The city of Yuanjiang was situated rather high above sea level. Winters in November would experience light snowfall, and much heavier snows in December. Near Christmas, the dancing snowflakes swirled wildly in the wind. It was cold, but it added to the atmosphere of the festivities.
Bright, glowing neon lights reflected throughout the city centre, flickering and changing periodically. In the center one shopping mall’s concourse stood a humongous christmas tree, and among its branches were gifts wrapped in red and white, silver tinsel, as well as stockings. Displayed in the shop windows were the newest coats and boots, and with the meticulously placed lighting, every digit on the price tag was enhanced with a luxurious flair.
Showing in the cinemas was the latest Chinese New Year film1 <Towards South>. Its reviews were very good, and it was making a killing at the box office. Even the air was suffused with the scent of popcorn and loukoumades2. Young Omega girls were dressed in thick woolen skirts paired with snow boots. In their hands were movie tickets, and posing with a victory gesture in front of the huge posters, they took selfies with the superstar on print to commemorate the moment.
All the bustle and the liveliness had been captured by a camera. Accompanied by comical subtitles, it became an entertainment program shown in the night, broadcasted in a cold, quiet rental place located in Xijiao.
Across the thirty-inch television screen was a wooden dining table. The table was very clean, and there was nothing decorative on top, only a bowl of white rice, a bowl of steamed egg, and some medicine bottles lying scattered across.
He An was in the kitchen, ladling some meat broth from the pot.
From the living room came the excited voice of the program’s host. “Everyone knows that before accepting his role in <Towards South>, Xie Yan’s path to stardom has been extraordinarily smooth. In the past three years, he has acted in many excellent films, and his transition from a melancholy, beautiful youth to one that persevered and strove for success has also been rather successful. A few days ago, during the premiere of <Towards South>, Xie Yan accepted his boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Just as many tabloids have reported, this mysterious Alpha boyfriend is no other than that bodyguard in sunglasses that has accompanied him for over two years…”
He An quietly filled his bowl with soup, and placed the lid back onto the pot. He looked up at the light on the range hood, then held onto the edge of the kitchen counter and tip-toed with great effort, switching off the light as he tried his best not to let his stomach touch the cold surface of the counter.
The host’s incessant gossipy tone was still echoing through the living room. “Speaking to Xie Yan’s manager, we found out that Xie Yan has pretty much postponed all the filming he’s supposed to be doing next year. Doesn’t this mean that he’s already prepared to welcome an adorable baby during his next heat? Apparently, the compatibility of the couple’s pheromones are fairly astonishing, it’s 89%! With such a heaven-made match, they might just accidentally produce one Xie Yan junior!”
He An gave a small smile, and carried the bowl out to place it by the steamed egg. He undid the ties of his apron, then sat himself carefully, using the back of the chair as a support.
His pregnancy was nearly at the end of the third trimester already, and the bulge was huge and heavy, severely increasing the stress on his body. Due to the lack of massages from a partner, the circulation throughout the blood vessels in his legs was rather poor. The swelling could not be relieved, and as such, he was not able to walk about very well.
On top of that, his pheromones were horrendously out of balance.
Without his Alpha by his side, the foetus in He An’s stomach had not been able to get any pacification over the nine months. The more it grew, the more agitated it became, and every day, it would toss and turn about anxiously. Several bouts of abdominal pain were felt, and they almost resulted in a premature birth. He An went to the clinic and was prescribed a bunch of medication that were supposed to be substitutes for pheromones. Although they had an effect, it was not very strong. Instead, the side effect of nausea was greatly felt, and He An would frequently feel so bad that he had to lie down for an entire day.
No matter what, the pregnancy was already in its last month. He just had to endure for a little while longer and it would soon be over.
He An imagined how lovely and adorable the baby would be when it was born, and his discomfort lessened slightly. Picking up a bottle of powdered pregnancy supplements, he twisted the cap open and sprinkled some into the soup.
The entertainment program was still going on. When the press conference started, lights flashed across the screen, and the Omega idol Xie Yan, successful in both career and his love life, stood in front of the camera. For this interview, he was accompanied by his fiancé. Blessings and congratulations showered upon them, and Xie Yan’s eyes curved along with his delighted smile. A light flush shone through his fair skin, and he was truly indescribably pretty.
Most of the questions were rather friendly, asking “when would you hold your wedding”, “which other actors are you planning on inviting”, “would you stop acting to have a child”. However, a voice rose abruptly during an inopportune moment. “Hi, Xie Yan. Rumours have it that three years ago, you had a relationship with the president of Jiusheng Group, Zheng Feiluan. Did Mr. Zheng express his congratulations to you privately on your marriage proposal this time?”
When the name “Zheng Feiluan” was heard, the twist in Xie Yan’s expression could be seen very clearly. By the time that person finished asking his question, it was as though the whole location had been submerged in ice.
He An lost his grip on his spoon. It landed right into his bowl, and the splash dyed his sleeve blood-red.
Staring at his sleeve, He An smiled wryly, asking himself. He An, what are you panicking about? What exactly do you have to even panic over? This isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the relationship between Xie Yan and Zheng Feiluan, but why, when you hear that name, do you panic so badly that you can’t even hold a spoon?
A few drops of soup scattered onto the back of his hand, burning hot.
He An lifted his hand up, slowly licking the spots away.
After a momentary silence, Xie Yan displayed his professionalism as an actor, and quickly adjusted his emotions. Replacing his expression with a helpless smile, he explained, “With regards to Mr. Zheng Feiluan, I’ve already made it clear a number of times over the past few days. Mr. Zheng and I are really just nothing but friends. When I was a newbie in the industry, Mr. Zheng did provide me with great help and support as he appreciated my talents. However, in the matters of our personal relationship, we…”
Xie Yan’s fiancé, standing next to him, suddenly took the microphone over, and responded coldly. “There was no congratulations, nor do we need one. Next question.”
For the official boyfriend to make that statement filled with groundless enmity, it instead confirmed that there had to be something between Xie Yan and Zheng Feiluan. The reporters wanted to continue following this trail, but due to the Alpha present displaying such repelling possessiveness, no one dared to say a word. The situation was so awkward that some members of the audience wanted to switch the channel. It was only until one reporter was quick-witted enough to ask a humorous question that changed the topic, before the atmosphere returned to its previous lively self.
But He An was not in the mood to continue watching anymore.
He switched off the television, finishing his meal alone in the tiny dining room. Alone, he tidied the table, washed the bowls, took off the shirt whose sleeve had been dirtied and threw it into the washing machine, then wrapped himself in a blanket and lay on the couch.
There was no one else in the house, and it was as quiet as a graveyard. Above He An’s head was a single lit incandescent light bulb, leaving a cold, harsh glare on the surfaces of the furniture, as well as casting dark shadows in the corners of the room. The heating was not working very well, and becoming less tolerant of the cold ever since he got pregnant, He An tucked the blanket further around his shoulders, curling himself up tighter.
It had already been slightly over two months since He An moved to this rental home in Xijiao.
Xijiao was an agricultural province of Yuanjiang City, and was located 25 kilometres away from the city centre. Adjacent to other provinces, it would take one and a quarter hours to reach the city centre by train. It was like a blood capillary far away from the heart, as by the time the bustle and the activity of the city flowed down to Xijiao, only a trace of the excitement was left, tepid and lukewarm. Even the trends it followed were a few months slower than the city. If not for the occasional flashes of “Yuanjiang City” seen on the signboards of the shops along the street, He An would even have felt that he no longer had anything to do with that huge, prosperous city.
Two months ago, that very day He An signed the agreement, Cheng Xiu had miraculously managed to contact an Omega who was also six months pregnant. Due to economical constraints, the Omega had no ability to raise their child, and could not afford an abortion as well. He An then requested for an abortion under his own name, and the Omega took his place in the surgical theatre.
With the cooperation between the two Omegas, they deceived the doctor appointed by Zheng Feiluan.
After that, He An resigned his job at the pet shop, and rented a small place in the faraway Xijiao that faced the rising sun.
To make it easier for him to move about, He An rented an apartment on the first floor. He only needed to climb half a staircase when he returned home, and it also would not be too tiring if he occasionally went out for a stroll.
Cheng Xiu would come visit him once every weekend, bringing with him some fruits, vegetables, supplements, infant milk powder and diapers, filling up an entire cabinet. Last week, Cheng Xiu had accompanied him for his gynaecology check up, and even suggested to find out the baby’s gender. He An wanted to keep the surprise for the moment the child was born, and so declined Cheng Xiu’s suggestion. He only gave the child its nickname, Lily.
The lily of the valley3 was the scent of He An’s pheromones. It was very light, and only when pressed right up to He An’s skin could one smell it faintly.
As a Beta, whose gender never had any scent, Cheng Xiu had once been very envious of how people like He An had their own scent. However, the moment he recalled the price they had to pay for such a “scent”, he was extremely thankful that he was a Beta.
Omegas were slaves to pheromones. Even if they had been violated savagely, they still could not control their committed feelings.
Cheng Xiu knew that He An still loved Zheng Feiluan.
Despite He An never taking the initiative to mention him, from the little details in his life, Cheng Xiu could see the countless ways He An missed him — He An was now an avid fan of hot cocoa, and the mug he usually used was printed with the logo of that cafe; Zheng Feiluan’s handwritten agreement had avoided the fate of the shredder, and was placed between the pages of the book of poetry He An often read, the blank page facing up, and the words facing down; on the coffee table were piles of financial magazines, each one containing an interview with Zheng Feiluan. The Zheng-shaoye4 on a cover of one of the magazines had a very noble bearing, his eyes lively, and his Alpha pheromones seemed to exude off him, about to set the paper into flames.
This October, Jiusheng’s 28th high-end hotel would be completed in the country, and the seaside resort villas in faraway Europe would officially commence construction. As the essential person at the helm of Jiusheng, Zheng Feiluan had become the darling of the reporters’ scrutiny over the past two months. His figure could be seen all over various printed materials and news channels, and his name was forever linked with excessive praise that showed off the journalist’s literary skills.
Other than his career, Zheng Feiluan’s relationship status was also another point people focused on.
Zheng Feiluan was 29 this year. Having achieved both name and success, along with his outstanding looks, with a business presence in 29 cities, he was awaiting the appearance of an Omega that was a perfect match for him — these romantic words, when printed on paper, were enough to make others interested.
Zheng Feiluan always avoided answering questions to do with his relationships, but the reporters would still find a chance to ask him about it. After all, the cold, hard numbers about the share prices and business reports were hard to understand, while a relationship status was something fresh and direct, and everyone could understand it. Even the most traditional financial interview would try to ask a couple of questions, as if they did manage to get an answer, it would be a win for them.
Fortunately, this time Zheng Feiluan did not disappoint the reporters.
Unlike his usual self, during the interview, Zheng Feiluan emphasised that he was still single, and his heart belonged to no one. When he was asked about what he looked for in a partner, he gave a simple answer, that it was an important decision that had to be made carefully and cautiously, and both reason and sensibilities had to be considered, and he would not allow pheromones to take control of him. He even joked that if an Omega wished to marry into a rich family relying on their pheromones, it would be best if they changed their target.
He An bought a magazine that contained Zheng Feiluan’s interview, so he saw every single piercing word. He did not throw the magazine away, only taking out a black marker and crossing every insulting word out.
However, there were still some things that he would never be able to cross out, like that huge photo on a tabloid magazine.
The financial magazines took the high road, while the tabloid magazines went low. Looking everywhere, the entertainment reports dug out photos secretly taken three years ago. Whether blurry or clear, the photos were published, and were sent out in all directions. As such, everyone saw that the little unknown actor next to Zheng Feiluan then was the currently famous Xie Yan.
The reporters swarmed after Xie Yan, and Xie Yan denied everything. They then chased after Zheng Feiluan, and Zheng Feiluan sneered.
Both parties kept their mouth tightly shut, and their turbulent relationship from three years ago became an unconfirmed and half-open secret on televisions everywhere. He An was jealous and sour, unable to sleep throughout the night, yet he was so very envious, envying Xie Yan, that despite being an Omega, he could still be someone that could plead his innocence, and hold onto his dignity.
He had begged to stay, but was driven away by Zheng Feiluan.
Love and dread ran through He An, a mess so chaotic that he himself was unsure what exactly he was hoping for. Was he hoping for Zheng Feiluan’s care and concern, or was he hoping that he could escape the shackles of the pheromones, cutting away his own wretched and hopeless feelings, and be like Xie Yan, stating resolutely that “there’s nothing between us”?