Lu Qi’an accompanied Lin Fengxun until the clock almost struck ten in the evening. His aunt Lu Wanqing stopped him when he was about to leave.
“Why don’t you stay for the night? I’ll ask the driver to pick up your stuffs for you. Is there anything you need?”
To which Lu Qi’an replied, “Nothing in particular. There’s no need to trouble the driver.”
Lu Wanqing smiled, “Alright, you’ve stayed here frequently so some necessities are already available. If you need anything else, you can use Fengfeng’s.”
Lin Fengxun chimed in, “Yeah! Yeah! Bro Qi’an can wear my pyjamas.”
Lu Wanqing looked at her son helplessly and said, “How can Qi’an fit into your clothes? You’re younger than him by three years and you only eat in small portion most of the time, so you’re still two sizes smaller than Qi’an now.”
Lin Fengxun retorted resentfully, “I just don’t have the appetite to eat!”
Lu Wanqing felt her heart ached as she didn’t expect her son would reply to her in this manner so she quickly changed the subject. “Qi’an, which room would you like to stay in for the night?”
Lin Fengxun scrambled to suggest, “Bro Qi’an, sleep with me.”
Lu Qi’an refused the invitation. “I’ll watch over you by the bedside until you fall asleep as usual.”
Lin Fengxun knew even though his stubbornness would not be completely tolerated, Lu Qi’an would still indulge his behavior to the greatest extent. He was incredibly happy deep down, yet he still feigned an upset expression on his face. “Fine then.”
Lu Qi’an was a man of his words. After washing up, he stayed by Lin Fengxun’s bedside and accompanied him until he fell asleep.
As Lu Wanqing watched this scene unfold before her very eyes, she felt an unexplainable warm sensation gushing forth from the bottom of her heart.
Lin Fengxun had never left the house since childhood and he had never experienced school like other children his age, so he had neither classmates nor friends who he could play with. Only Lu Qi’an would play with him, slowly turning into his sole companion. That was the reason why he still behaved like a child even though he was already fourteen years old and always clung to Lu Qi’an.
Fortunately Lu Qi’an was a nice boy. Although he was reserved and taciturn since young, he was extremely patient when dealing with Lin Fengxun.
“Good night,” said Lu Wanqing.
Lin Fengxun waved to her as he answered, “Good night, Mom!”
Lu Qi’an also replied. “Good night, Auntie.”
Lu Wanqing shut the door with a smile.
As the sound of his aunt’s footsteps travelled further away, Lu Qi’an helped Lin Fengxun tucked the edges of his blanket in before saying, “Now that she’s gone, let’s talk about why you vomited earlier.”
Frowning, Lin Fengxun revealed a disgusted look on his countenance. “It’s because I saw him.”
“Fu Jia,” Lin Fengxun spat out the name with difficulty, as though the very mention of it would dirty his tongue.
Lu Qi’an kept his silence.
Lin Fengxun continued, “He was at the edge of the living room on the first floor yesterday. It seemed he was searching for Aunt Chen.”
Lu Qi’an still didn’t utter a single word at that.
Lin Fengxun sat upright in an instant. “Bro Qi’an, why didn’t you say anything?”
Lu Qi’an helped him pull up his blanket to cover his shoulders. “What do you want me to say?”
Instead, Lin Fengxun was rendered speechless. What did he want to hear? He wasn’t sure either.
He had already decided to treat Fu Jia as an invisible being from the start, without a trace of hatred or dislike in order to show his complete rejection of him. But as he expected, he wasn’t able to do it. He still hated him to his very bones, to the extent where he would feel like throwing up at the sight of Fu Jia.
He eagerly hoped that someone would use an obscene language that he could never think of to insult Fu Jia. The dirtier, the better.
“Just say something,” Lin Fengxun softened his tone and began to shamelessly act like a spoiled child, “Say something loathful about him.”
Lu Qi’an shook his head, “I don’t know him well enough so there’s nothing I can say.”
Lin Fengxun punched the mattress with full force. “I just hate him so much!” Having nowhere to vent out the resentment swelling in his chest made him feel uncomfortable all over.
Seeing how pale he’d become, Lu Qi’an took hold of his hands. “Fengfeng, lie down.”
Feeling awkward, Lin Fengxun declared, “No.”
Lu Qi’an gently patted his tensed back. “Since you don’t want to see him again, tell Aunt Chen to ask him to stay out of your sight as much as possible.”
Lin Fengxun covered up half of his face with the blanket. “I even hate Aunt Chen now.”
Lu Qi’an frowned, “Fengfeng, lie down.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Lie down,” the tone in Lu Qi’an’s voice changed.
Startled by the change of tone, Lin Fengxun looked towards him cautiously. “Bro Qi’an…”
“Lie down. Staying up late is detrimental to your health.” Lu Qi’an’s voice became gentle once again, as though he wasn’t the one who spat out those same words coldly in a harsh manner earlier.
Feeling relieved, Lin Fengxun was afraid to be stubborn anymore and lie down on his bed obediently. He didn’t feel sleepy at all as the ruckus he raised before made him all the more awake.
Lu Qi’an said, “Fengfeng. You’re a boy. You need to know how to be open-minded.”
“I understand,” Lin Fengxun responded half-heartedly.
Lu Qi’an knew he didn’t take his words to heart. “You can hate him but don’t let this hatred affect your health.”
Lin Fengxun really felt an urge to cover up his ears.
Lu Qi’an continued to lecture him for a good twenty minutes, to the extent that Lin Fengxun finally fell asleep, feeling utterly worn out. He remained seated for a while longer. After he was sure Lin Fengxun wouldn’t kick his blanket away, only then did he leave the room quietly.
Lin Fengxun’s room was located on the third floor while the guest room was on the second floor. As he went down the small flight of stairs situated at the side of the villa nearby, he ran into Aunt Chen who was wiping the handrail.
Aunt Chen nodded at him.
Stopping in his tracks, Lu Qi’an said, “Aunt Chen, I have a favor to ask.”
When she heard his words, Aunt Chen withdrew her hands, resting them before her lap stiffly.
“Please tell Fu Jia to be more careful to not go near the living room on the first floor again and use the back door to move about,” said Lu Qi’an.
Before he could finish, Aunt Chen was already nodding in a repetitive manner, as though she had already expected what he was going to tell her from the very first word she heard.
“Thank you, Aunt Chen.”
“Not at all. It’s just a small thing. A trivial matter,” Aunt Chen started to sweat a little because of his gratitude.
Lu Qi’an continued to head down. As he passed by the middle platform of the stairs, he noticed there was another person cleaning the stairs, crouching down on the staircase to spray some water. He repeated the action three times before wiping it with a cleaning rag.
Lu Qi’an didn’t bother to move quietly so there was no way he hadn’t notice his presence. Yet he still remained unmoved on the spot, he didn’t even bother to look up.
He was donning his high school uniform. Lu Qi’an recognized the clothes. No. 16 High. It had the worst quality of education amongst a dozen or more schools in the mix. Basketball was the only thing they were good at, having used to be a strong competitor he faced when he was competing in the city league tournament.
And the only person who would wear the uniform from that school could only be Fu Jia.
Lu Qi’an said, “Excuse me.”
The staircase was so pitifully narrow that it was difficult for him to pass with Fu Jia blocking the way.
Fu Jia showed no signs of moving.
When Aunt Chen heard the commotion, she’d rushed over in a hurry, her eyes widening in shock the moment her gaze landed on Fu Jia. “Didn’t I tell you to wipe the ones on the first floor? How did you get here? Hurry up and move!”
Fu Jia still refused to look up, but his movements stopped, both of his hands were propped on the floor.
Towering from above, Lu Qi’an could only get a look of the back of his neck as well as the protruding shoulder blade on his lean back.
Aunt Chen called out again, “Fu Jia?”
Fu Jia finally responded, “I’m sorry. My legs are numb. Please wait for a while.”
He looked up, staring directly into Lu Qi’an’s eyes.
Those were a pair of eyes so dark resembling a bottomless abyss.
This thought suddenly emerged in Lu Qi’an’s mind. He understood well enough that he made a wrong analogy. Did eyes which couldn’t reflect light even exist? Still, Fu Jia’s pupils were so black that when coupled with the faint smile adorning his face, they seemed as though they’d never shine.
“I’ll use the other stairs,” Lu Qi’an made a move to turn around.
But Aunt Chen stopped him in his tracks. “Please don’t. I’ll get him to move. Fu Jia, please hurry and step aside.”
Fu Jia kneaded his thighs. “No can do. I still can’t stand up. Why don’t you step over me? I don’t mind,” he smiled, revealing a toothy grin.
Lu Qi’an furrowed his brows and stayed silent.
Fu Jia made a weird expression before raising his brow, the corner of his lips curling downwards as though saying, “What to do?”
Lu Qi’an looked away from him and asked, “Aunt Chen, why do you let him do the cleaning?”
Both Aunt Chen and Fu Jia were taken by surprise.
“I…” Aunt Chen fell into a stutter, unable to explain coherently to Lu Qi’an. “He wanted to help me because I always worked until late night so…”
Lu Qi’an interrupted her instantly. “He’s a guest of my uncle. It’s inexcusable to make him do the cleaning for you. If I inform my uncle about this, he would fire you without hesitation.”
He made it sound nice. ‘A guest of my uncle.’
The expression on Aunt Chen’s feature quickly turned to fear.
Fu Jia stood up from his crouching position on the floor with a speed that’s faster than a high jump athlete. Moving to the side, he tightly pressed himself against the wall, indicating Lu Qi’an to pass through, “I’m fine now. Please go ahead.”
Lu Qi’an went downstairs and left without saying a word.
Rooted to the spot, both Aunt Chen and Fu Jia didn’t utter a single word. After a long while, Aunt Chen began, “You heard him. Don’t go to the living room from now on and use the back door.”
Fu Jia answered noncommittally.
As she stared at him, a look resembling pity was reflected in her eyes once more.
Fu Jia hated that kind of expression. People often casted that look to look at poor dogs and cats who were abandoned by the roadside. And yet all they did was looked and showered them with pity to their heart’s content, before turning away to go about their merry way.
Aunt Chen said, “You don’t need to help me anymore.”
Fu Jia gave no response.
After hesitating momentarily, Aunt Chen placed a hand lightly on his shoulder. “Do you want to move out?”
Fu Jia answered with determination, “No.”
He mustn’t move out.
He hadn’t lose yet.
Having brought home by his father when he was eight, Fu Jia could only remember a few snippets about his childhood since then.
His father’s villa was enormous with row of servant quarters on the first floor. His father had led him there while holding his hand and said, “Stay here for the time being.”
And he’d remained there for a decade.
He lived in the room of a maid called Aunt Chen. Akin to a rat in the villa, his father, father’s wife and son would avoid the very sight of him.
Aunt Chen’s son would come over to freeload a meal every night and burnt his hand with a cigarette butt, while threatening him not to cry out in pain. If he cried out by accident, he would add another one. The most despicable thing was whenever Aunt Chen had almost caught him smoking, he would use Fu Jia’s hand as an ashtray, making him wrap the burning cigarette in his fist to hide it from Aunt Chen.
Whenever he delved into his memories, there was a scene that he would always recall first amongst others. It would emerge without exception, unfailingly parading in front of his mind’s eye, going back and forth repeatedly, only appeased and moving onto the next one after it deemed to have tortured him enough.
It was a cloudy day and Fu Jia was hiding in the garden, blowing at the scar on his palm originating from cigarette burns, when he heard children laughter coming from the house.
A young boy had said, “Bro Qi’an, I want you to catch a dragonfly for me!”
The other boy’s voice tried to sound more mature as he replied, “Sure. Wait for me here.”
It was soon followed by a push of the door, the sound of footsteps walking across the garden accompanied by the brushing of plants against clothes. By the time the sound stopped, Fu Jia had looked up in fear at the young boy who had discovered him unintentionally.
But the boy remained calm when he saw him. He wasn’t bothered in the least by his presence since catching dragonflies was his main concern right then.
He began to pounce on the dragonfly as it started to move about. The rays of sunlight that shone on this moment began to appear illogical as it seemed to follow and flicker against the boy’s movements. After all, this was a memory and precisely because it was a memory that Fu Jia was able to use up all of his imagination to beautify it.
It was unknown how long had passed, the dragonfly began to move in Fu Jia’s direction. Without giving it much of a thought, he instinctively reached out to catch it.
It prompted the boy to stop in his tracks. “Can you give it to me?”
Fu Jia answered, “S-sure…”
Stretching out his arm, the boy reached out to grab the dragonfly from his grasp before handing him a band-aid.
It had a Spongebob Squarepants cartoon print on it.
Fu Jia’s eyes widened involuntarily in shock.
“You’ve a scar on your hand.” After the boy said that, he left carrying the dragonfly.
Fu Jia tore open the packaging of the band-aid in a daze before sticking it on his hand. His movements were clumsy, and he had even caused the sticky parts of the band-aid to stick together by mistake, but eventually, he managed to successfully use it to cover up his scar.
After Aunt Chen looked at him briefly once he had returned to his room, Aunt Chen’s face twisted into anger as she yelled, “Where did you get this from?”
Gripping onto Fu Jia’s hand, she stared at the Spongebob Squarepants band-aid wrapping his finger in trepidation and anger.
Smiling momentarily, Fu Jia didn’t utter a single word, hoping that he could be let off easily.
Raising her hand, she landed a sound slap on Fu Jia’s face.
She had been doing cleaning chores for years at end so her hands were covered with a thick layer of calluses. It hit Fu Jia with a force that shook him on the spot, making him unable to yelp out in pain even when he wanted to.
“How could you steal Fengfeng’s stuff?” Aunt Chen reprimanded in a fit of rage.
“I didn’t…” He defended himself softly, afraid to gaze into her furious eyes.
“You still dare to lie! I saw with my own eyes that Fengfeng had a band-aid like this on him today! Nobody bought this for you so if you didn’t steal this, where did it come from then?” Aunt Chen held up Fu Jia’s collar, dragging him to the corner of the walls to stand in punishment. “Madame has asked me to keep an eye on you. She was right! If you dare to take Fengfeng’s belongings again, I’ll break your hand!”
With an expression devoid of all emotions, Fu Jia only mumbled, “I didn’t…”