Ji Qinyang was fiddling with his mobile. After changing her clothes, Mo Suyuan walked out from the fitting room. Standing in front of the mirror, she shifted and looked at her reflection.
“Does it look nice?” Mo Suyuan asked her son. Ji Qinyang looked and smiled, “Is there even anything that looks bad on you?”
Mo Suyuan rebuked him, “Are you treating your mother like a girl? What a honeyed tongue.”
Ji Qinyang cocked his brow and remained silent. He waited for Mo Suyuan to pass the clothes over to the salesgirl to pack them up and prepare the receipt before slowly asking, “When are we going back?”
“Didn’t we already agreed on this?” Mo Suyuan took her wallet out, speaking unconcernedly. “Let’s have one more week of fun… and I’ll take a look at Zhongyin’s dorm with you, so that we can prepare anything that’s lacking in advance.”
“I might not stay in a dormitory.”
Mo Suyuan was taken aback. “You’re not staying there?”
“It’s too small, there’s not enough space for my instruments,” Ji Qinyang explained. “It’s better to rent an apartment.”
Mo Suyuan looked at him in askance. “You sure you’re not planning on cohabitating with a girl?”
Ji Qinyang replied with much innocence, “Who is this girl I’ll be cohabitating with?”
Mo Suyuan snorted, “You know it yourself.”
She winked slyly, “Sure, you can rent a place. You have to think of a way yourself though, Mama is not going to help you.”
Early in the morning, Zhuo Xiaoyuan did not see Xie Meng arrive at school. He also did not reply his text, and after the first class of the day, Maitreya asked him to go to the office to help pick up the examination papers.
“Distribute them.” Maitreya stacked the pile of marked papers on Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s arms. The teacher whose desk was next to them happened to return, and greeted Maitreya. “This time, Qidong’s papers are very difficult. How did your class do?”
Maitreya spread his palms, “Same old, same old.”
The teacher laughed. “Xie Meng is the first in class again?”
“When is he not the first?” Maitreya sighed, “This child just cannot get a break… The college entrance examination is approaching, yet this happened to his relative. I don’t know if he’ll be able to push through it.”
Some of the papers on Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s arms slid to the ground. Maitreya saw this and cried out, “Be careful.”
“What happened to Xie Meng’s grandmother?” Zhuo Xiaoyuan looked closely at Maitreya, his brows knitted deeply. “What happened to him?”
Zhang Xiujuan’s funeral was very simple. Most of it was done with the help of their neighbours, setting up the mourning hall and inviting the monks to chant rituals. As the old lady was of an advanced age, and she had left without any pain, it was considered a funeral for one who had lived to a ripe old age. Many of the people who came to mourn were not excessively sorrowful.
In the kitchen, Xie Meng was steaming buns alone. Taking a basket out, he distributed them to everyone.
Master Jin from the martial arts centre patted him on the shoulder. “Xiao Xie, you’ve worked hard.”
The colour of Xie Meng’s face looked awful, and his eyes were obviously tired. “It’s nothing.”
Master Jin nodded. He took out a cigarette and lit it, smoking a few puffs and offered it to Zhang Xiujuan’s picture. “What do you plan on doing now?”
Xie Meng thought about it. “I’ll apply to a university, and continue to study I guess.”
“Going to university is good,” Master Jin smiled. He looked at the wreaths in the courtyard, “Your grandmother always wanted the best for you.”
Xie Meng did not speak. After a long moment, he finally acknowledged Master Jin’s words.
The two sat down and chatted for a while more. It was getting late, and the guests all started leaving one after another. Xie Meng stood up to send them off, and when he returned, Master Jin was no longer there. On the table was a white envelope, and Xie Meng discovered 5000rmb inside.
The cigarette was left with only the butt. Xie Meng cleared the trash before lighting up a joss stick and kneeling in front of Zhang Xiujuan’s photo, bowing three times.
The joss stick burned slowly, and the ashes fell into the burner. Xie Meng stood up, looking at the old lady’s black and white photo in front of him.
No matter at what age Zhang Xiujuan was, it was evident from her facial features that she was a beauty in her youth. She had a pair of smiling eyes, gentle and affectionate.
No matter how old she is, Zhang Xiujuan can see from her five senses that she was a beautiful woman in her youth, with gentle and affectionate smiles. She is a typical woman in the south of the Yangtze River who looks like smoke and water. Gentle and pretty, she was the model Jiangnan woman.
The years seemed reluctant to make her older, and so silently gave her a gentle end.
When Ji Qinyang received Xie Meng’s call in the middle of the night, he even incredulously confirmed the call again. Getting up from his bed, he walked to the balcony.
“Why aren’t you sleeping yet?” Ji Qinyang’s room was located on a very high floor of the hotel. Looking down, he could see the bustling nightlife. Unlike Suzhou, even after 10pm, Beijing was still lit up with bright lights, swarming with life.
Xie Meng’s voice was a little quiet. “I’m about to sleep… Were you sleeping?”
Ji Qinyang lied, “Of course not, I’ve been waiting for your call.”
Xie Meng breathed lightly. He was silent for a moment, before speaking slowly. “There’s a thunderstorm over here in Suzhou…”
“Oh?” Ji Qinyang looked at the neon signs on the buildings in the distance. “The weather in Beijing is very good, there’s a wind, and it’s not wet…”
“Ji Qinyang.” Xie Meng interrupted him suddenly.
“… When are you coming back?”
Ji Qinyang paused, then laughed. “It’s rare to hear you say something like this… Did you miss me?”
Thunder could be heard, and even Xie Meng’s voice sounded somewhat damp.
The boy sighed, seemingly resigned. “Other than you, who else can I miss?” A pause, and Xie Meng whispered, “Come back soon.”
“…” Ji Qinyang rested his forehead on his hand. After some time, he mumbled, “I really want to look at your expression right now…”
Xie Meng was embarrassed. “… Better not, it’s too ugly.”
“Why would it be ugly? Did you cry?” Ji Qinyang joked.
Xie Meng remained silent.
Ji Qinyang thought about it. “You’ll definitely be very handsome when you cry too.”
Xie Meng sounded a little hoarse. “I’ve never even cried in front of you before, how would you know?”
Ji Qinyang paused before chuckling, “There would always be a chance of it happening in the future.”
After hanging up, Ji Qinyang did not return immediately to his room. Frowning, he scanned through his contact list and dialled Zhuo Xiaoyuan’s number as he leaned against the railing.
Zhuo Xiaoyuan picked up very quickly, his voice alert and a little cool. “Hold on for a bit,” He told Ji Qinyang. Then he sounded like he was comforting someone, his tone low and gentle. “We’ll go back after this injection. If you’re sleepy, just take a nap, Gege will accompany you…”
Ji Qinyang waited for him to settle down before asking, “What’s wrong with Jinjin?”
“It’s the same old problem, it’s nothing urgent,” Zhuo Xiaoyuan was composed. “I’ve been wanting to contact you. I haven’t been able to get through to Xie Meng recently, and he hasn’t been replying my texts…”
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “I’ve just spoke to him on the phone.”
“…” Zhuo Xiaoyuan choked, gritting his teeth. “Are you going to let the single person talk!?”
Ji Qinyang, “…”
“Forget it,” Zhuo Xiaoyuan huffed, grumbling. “Then, what did he talk to you about?”
Ji Qinyang had just opened his mouth, only to hear Zhuo Xiaoyuan speaking gloomily, “If it’s nothing but sweet talk, you can just shut up… Abusing a single dog in the middle of the night, be careful of me suing you!”
Ji Qinyang laughed evilly, “Then I better not say anything.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan, “…”
“You guys really…” Zhuo Xiaoyuan clicked his tongue, feeling a headache. “I really don’t know if I should say your relationship is very good or what. Forget about Xie Meng not telling us about it, but he’s also hiding it from you… But you’re going through an exam in Beijing, he probably doesn’t want to trouble you.”
Ji Qinyang’s smile disappeared. “What exactly is going on?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan kept silent for a while, before he slowly said, “Grandma Zhang has passed away. It happened last Saturday, and Xie Meng has applied for a leave of absence til the 7th. I wanted to go down today, but then Jinjin’s health… Zhang Ganggang and Qi Fei have arranged to go over first tomorrow, when are you coming back?”
Ji Qinyang’s fingers tightened over his phone.
Seeing that he had yet to respond, Zhuo Xiaoyuan called out to him doubtfully. “Hey, are you still listening… Anyway, just come back as soon as you can. Xie Meng has a very quiet nature, if he doesn’t cry or make a fuss, I’m afraid he’ll get sick from it…”
“He won’t,” Ji Qinyang insisted. “With me around, he won’t.”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan sounded scornful. “… Where is your confidence coming from? He didn’t even tell you anything.”
Ji Qinyang laughed. “He doesn’t need to say anything and I would still know.”
The boy looked up, and the colourful neon lights from the opposite building reflected upon his face. Ji Qinyang looked calm and gentle. “Whatever Xie Meng is thinking, I understand everything.”
Ever since Zhang Xiujuan passed away, Xie Meng’s schedule had turned irregular. Since the first night he stood vigil, his sleep schedule had never adjusted back. For the next few days, he was unable to fall asleep.
Exhausted in the morning, unable to sleep at night, the only thing Xie Meng could do was to force himself to eat a little more, so as to not collapse.
After calling Ji Qinyang that night, Xie Meng held his phone and finally groggily fell asleep. The next morning when he woke up, the sky had cleared up.
Clearing the ashes in the burner, Xie Meng again wiped the photo frame.
Once October was over, the feel of autumn became more intense. Clouds were high, and the breeze was light. The fragrance of the sweet-smelling osmanthus wafted all the way to the courtyard. Xie Meng thought about it, then stood up to open the gate. He planned on airing the place, but just as he opened the door, someone was standing there.
Ji Qinyang’s hand was raised, looking as though he was about to knock on the door. Standing outside, his luggage was next to him, and his hair was in a mess, doing nothing for his image.
Xie Meng, “…”
Ji Qinyang was taken aback, then he smiled. “Good morning.”
“…” Xie Meng blinked. “Aren’t you…”
“I bought the earliest flight ticket, spending the night in the train station. Fortunately, there was a train from Shanghai to Suzhou in the morning.”
Xie Meng could not say a word.
Ji Qinyang’s eyes were fixed on Xie Meng’s face. He looked for a very long time, before opening his arms and smiling, “Come, give me a hug.”
After filling his stomach, the next thing Ji Qinyang was in a hurry to do was to wash his hair. The water heater was not yet turned on, and Xie Meng could only boil some water instead. He prepared a basin for Ji Qinyang, and after soaking his hair, the boy washed his face as well. Standing behind him with a scoop, Xie Meng slowly poured water over his head.
“Is it too hot?” Xie Meng combed Ji Qinyang’ soft hair with his fingers.
The boy shook his head, mumbling, “It’s not too hot… Pass me the shampoo.”
Xie Meng rolled up his sleeves. “I’ll help you.”
Xie Meng foamed up the shampoo and rubbed it into Ji Qinyang’s hair. Massaging his head a few times, he then rinsed it with water.
“Don’t move,” Xie Meng instructed. Handing a towel to Ji Qinyang, he went into the house to grab a hairdryer. When he came out, he saw the boy rubbing at his hair.
Ji Qinyang hung the towel around his neck. He held Xie Meng’s hand, and trapped him between his legs.
Xie Meng looked down at him.
Ji Qinyang reached out to touch the boy’s hair, then his cheek, and finally his lips. He pulled at Xie Meng’s neck. The latter bent down, and the two exchanged a kiss.
“… Blow your hair dry first.” Xie Meng kissed Ji Qinyang’s forehead.
After lighting a joss stick for Zhang Xiujuan and bowing, Ji Qinyang saw Xie Meng on the phone in the courtyard. When he hung up, Ji Qinyang asked, “Zhang Ganggang?”
Xie Meng nodded. “Mn. He’ll be coming over with Qi Fei in the afternoon.”
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “The afternoon…”
Xie Meng, “?
Ji Qinyang took a few steps over to Xie Meng. Crouching, he lifted Xie Meng up in his arms.
“!” Without thinking, Xie Meng wanted to struggle. However, Ji Qinyang did not let go, and even raised him up a little as though he was weighing him.
“You’ve lost weight again.” The boy turned to look down at Xie Meng. “Let’s go take a nap first?”
Xie Meng was embarrassed. “A nap… What if I can’t sleep?”
Carrying him, Ji Qinyang headed to his room, speaking calmly, “Don’t worry, I’ll definitely make you fall asleep.”