Edited by Planetes
The next morning, the two families took a boat out to the lake for fishing.
The natural scenery of Thousand Islands was beautiful and magnificent. However, Li Shuo was not in the mood to admire it, and his eyes were fixed on the bobber of the fishing line as he sat there in a daze.
It had already been a few days since the incident, but the lawyers had made no substantial progress. He was truly afraid that he would be trapped here forever, but he was not willing to ask his father for help.
A hand clapped down on Li Shuo’s shoulder, giving him a shock. Looking up, it was his father. “Pa, have you caught any fish yet?”
“I’ve just caught a big one that weighs two kilos, but you didn’t come when I called. What are you thinking about?”
Li Shuo smiled. “I’m waiting for my big fish.”
Mr. Li sat down on the stool next to him. “Xiao Shuo, you don’t seem to be in a good state recently, and you always seem very absent-minded, holding onto your phone the whole time. Is there something wrong with the firm?”
“Oh, there’s a slight issue with a case. It’s nothing big, I just have to direct them over the phone.”
“It’s not just ‘a slight issue’, right? You’re not the sort to be nervous when faced with a small issue. Your mother has long discovered that there’s something wrong with you, so she wanted to bring you out and let you relax. In the end, you still don’t seem to be doing well, so she asked me to come chat with you.” Mr. Li said in resignation, “Actually, I didn’t want to look for you originally. You’re too similar to me, and we’re never willing to bring any troubles back home. I also believe in my son’s capability, but I just can’t go against your mother.”
Li Shuo felt a warmth swelling within him, that he was the luckiest person ever, to have such a perfect family. Both his parents had good temperaments, and they loved and respected each other. This was the marriage he desired, and so, despite being a homosexual, he felt that he should find a man that was as gentle, kind and contented as his mother, like Li Chengxiu.
With a smile, he looked at his father. “Pa, thank you. Don’t worry, I can settle this issue. Isn’t work like this anyway? Problems will appear, and we’ll have to solve them. It’s really nothing.”
“That’s good then.” Mr. Li patted his son’s back. “Actually, I’m really not worried for you. Even if you happen to fall down somewhere, you’d definitely be able to climb back up. Even if you can’t, so what? What your family leaves for you is more than enough for your entire life.”
Li Shuo laughed, “Pa, if you had said this to me when I was young, I would definitely have grown into a prodigal son.”
“You won’t,” Mr. Li said proudly. “The thing I’m proudest of in my life is not my company that I started from scratch, but marrying a good wife and having a good son.”
“Pa, thank you very much.” Li Shuo sighed internally. Whether it was due to filial piety, or his pride, he was unwilling to have his parents worry for him.
He remembered when he had just graduated from university, in the heat of the moment, he gave up his place for a Master’s degree at LSE, insisting on going to Africa to teach for a year. His parents strongly opposed it, their key concern being his safety. Li Shuo always had lofty ambitions, and he was too idealistic when he was young. As the epitome of a rich man’s son, the parental love of chinese family values and the desire for independence of western family values left him extremely conflicted. He could not bear to defy his parents’ overprotectiveness, but also felt that his parents’ grace left him ashamed amongst his peers. He wanted to do something “truly meaningful”, and so he thought of this way, where he was able to perform charitable deeds without his parents’ money.
He convinced his parents, then followed a group of volunteers to Ethiopia.
He started regretting it the first day he was there. In the years he had lived, he had never experienced such a poor and wretched environment before, such hopeless despair. The suffering of the local children especially made him feel extremely suffocated. His first meal there left him with diarrhoea and vomiting, and his fever burned for three days. He felt that he was just like an idiot, giving up his favourable life and his first-class school to come to a horrible place like this. This was basically the result of not listening to his parents.
However, each time he called his parents, he dared not even mention how bad it was for him. At first, he felt that it was embarrassing, but later, it was because he could not bear to let his parents worry over him.
In the end, he stayed there for fifteen months. From his earliest regrets and negativity, it became resignation and adapting to the life there, and he later sincerely wanted to help out the local children. These changes in his mental state accompanied his swift maturation, and it was much much more than what he had learnt and understood in his past twenty years. He was thankful for the experience of the fifteen months, curing him of his fragility and rebellion, letting him completely understand many things in life, and also made him become extraordinarily tenacious and brave.
Hence, he never asked his parents for help, never letting them worry. It was not only because of filial piety or his pride, but more because he felt that he should experience everything himself to make it meaningful.
Mr. Li chatted with him for a little while more before going off to fish again. Li Shuo looked at the calm surface of the lake, his mood having lifted more. If he really was unable to return to China, then he would work hard to bring Li Chengxiu to him. He did not believe that Shao Qun would be able to trap him forever.
Just as Mr. Li left, Zhao Jinxin immediately leaned over. He whispered, “Darling, what big fish are you waiting for?”
Li Shuo laughed breezily. “In any case, it’s not you.”
“Why do you not even have a spark of fun in you at all.” Zhao Jinxin pouted, lowering his voice even more. Mysteriously, he said, “I have a friend who develops sex toys professionally, and he’s created a merman costume. Want to see me wear it?”
Li Shuo gave him a side-eye. “What can such teasing words bring you?”
Zhao Jinxin smiled charmingly. “The pleasure of flirting with you.”
Li Shuo shook his head helplessly. “Don’t speak. You’ll scare away my fish.”
“Just forget it, your heart’s not on the fish at all. Why are you so stubborn, refusing my help, and refusing your father’s help as well? This is no longer a matter of pride, it’s stupidity.”
Li Shuo replied calmly, “I’m already 34 years old, and it’s an age where a man is independent. To trouble my father who has heart issues with my problem, isn’t it more stupid?”
“Then what about me? Is it so difficult to accept my help too?”
Li Shuo looked out onto the lake in silence. Just like he said, he did not wish to owe Zhao Jinxin a favour. With how Zhao Jinxin was incessantly sticking to him, if he really accepted his help, it would be even harder to refuse him.
Zhao Jinxin gave a disappointed sigh. He stared out at the lake for a little while, then suddenly cupped his cheeks with his hands, turning to look at Li Shuo, speaking coyly, “But Li-shushu is also very handsome like this. I like you even more now.”
Li Shuo did not know if he should laugh or cry.
“Let’s have a drink tonight,” Zhao Jinxin said with eyes full of anticipation.
“I’m not free tonight. Once my lawyer wakes up, we have a very long meeting to hold.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“We’ll see then.”
“Your answer’s too perfunctory. We’ll only be staying here for about four and five days together, and you’ve made a promise to me as well. You keep your promises, right?”
Li Shuo had no choice. “Tomorrow then.”
Zhao Jinxin smiled in satisfaction.
They prepared the fish they caught on the boat. Other than salt, no other spices were added. Whether grilled, in soup, or raw, no matter how it was prepared, the meat was fresh and delicate, the pure and unadulterated taste shining through.
Both families enjoyed the meal greatly. Chatting and laughing, they were all content.
When they returned to shore in the afternoon, they were all a little tired, quickly returning to rest.
Li Shuo stepped into his room, immediately making calls to China to seek any aid. These few days, he had pretty much contacted all his friends who could potentially be of help, and managed to make a tentative appraisal of Shao Qun’s motives. Shao Qun did not really plan on sending him to prison, as he would also have to pay a huge price for that. What he hoped to achieve was to make it such that Li Shuo was unable to return to China. This aim had been temporarily reached, but Li Shuo was not someone so easily defeated. He would definitely make Shao Qun regret this.
Before dinner, Zhao Jinxin came by to look for Li Shuo to help him apply his medication. Li Shuo did not want to be alone with him, and so took the medical kit out to the living room, applying the medication and hot compress in front of their parents and the butler. Zhao Jinxin could only behave, but there was a grievance in his eyes from not being able to get his way.
Zhao Rongtian looked at them for a while, then spoke in satisfaction. “You two get along quite well. In China, work hard and bring up the northern market, continuing the friendship from our generation. We’re from China after all, and tradition is the most important.”
Li Shuo smiled. “You’re right. I will definitely help Jinxin out to the best of my abilities.”
Zhao Jinxin spoke with great righteousness, “Pa, don’t worry. I’ll definitely work hard with dage.”
With deliberate solemnity, Zhao Jinxin emphasised a certain word, making Li Shuo so angry that he wanted to kick him. How could this kid be so shameless in front of his elders? He truly deserved a beating.
Zhao Rongtian walked away, happy, while Zhao Jinxin winked at Li Shuo flirtatiously. “See, he’s definitely my real father. Look how well he understands me.”
Li Shuo narrowed his eyes, pinching Zhao Jinxin’s fingers with careful force.
“Ah!” Zhao Jinxin cried out in pain.
“Sorry, sorry, I’ll be gentler.” Behind the backs of their parents, Li Shuo had an expression of “you deserved it”.
Aggrieved, Zhao Jinxin said quietly, “Li-shushu doesn’t dote on me at all.”
Li Shuo shot him a look of disdain.
Zhao Jinxin suddenly revealed a naughty smile.
Li Shuo had yet to register what was happening, and caught off guard, his legs were trapped by Zhao Jinxin’s legs. He glared at Zhao Jinxin, then guiltily glanced over to their parents chatting on the couch.
The two people were currently seated face to face by a log table. The bottom of the table was exposed, and as long as anyone looked over, they would be able to see the “affair” going on under the table.
Li Shuo wanted to pull his legs back, but he did not dare to make too large movements. In the end, his attempts were naturally fruitless, and he exclaimed quietly, “Hurry up and let go!”
Zhao Jinxin smiled cheekily. “You pinched my hand, so I’m trapping your legs now. Courtesy demands reciprocity, isn’t this very fair?”
“Bullshit.” Li Shuo twisted about anxiously. He was very nervous. If their parents saw this, how was he going to explain it? He was already so old, he could not be embarrassed like this.
Zhao Jinxin said softly, “Don’t move around randomly, careful that you’ll fall from the chair. Just don’t move, my legs are very strong.”
Li Shuo threatened, “If you don’t let go, I won’t get a drink with you anymore.”
Zhao Jinxin blinked his eyes. He clearly was the one who started harassing him, but now he instead looked like the one who was bullied, and he let go.
Li Shuo really wanted to applaud his own temper and manners. If it was someone else, continuously teased by a boy nearly ten years younger than them, they would probably have destroyed the table already.
By the end of the day, Li Shuo’s mind was exhausted, and his body as well. He went to bed early and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, he vaguely heard a beeping sound. However, he was very groggy, and he thought it was a dream. Turning around, he fell back into deep sleep.
The next morning, he got out of bed and washed up. Picking up his phone, he wanted to see if he received any new emails, only to discover that his phone was out of battery. Plugging it into its charger, he headed downstairs for breakfast.
After breakfast, Zhao Jinxin again insisted on dragging him along to walk the dogs.
Li Shuo had always rather liked dogs, but he was also an excessively responsible person. With his life that often required him to go on business trips, he was unable to take care of a pet. He could not keep the responsibilities in balance.
Ann and Bee were extremely energetic Alaskan Malamutes, and they were both rather strong. The two people, each with a leash in their hands, spent most of their time being dragged along. After a round around the holiday resort, Li Shuo felt even more tired than running five kilometres.
Seeing Zhao Jinxin bound about with the dogs, showing no trace of exhaustion, Li Shuo momentarily was a little envious of his youth.
Holding onto Ann’s leash, Zhao Jinxin ran a hundred metres ahead, turning around and jumping about as he waved at Li Shuo. “Hurry up.” The way he looked, full of vitality, he seemed to gather up all the vigour of this pleasant morning.
Li Shuo suddenly remembered that walking a dog with someone he liked was one of his dreams of a stable life, and Zhao Jinxin was the first person to fulfil this dream of his.
He immediately stopped his thoughts from extending further into this dream.
Zhao Jinxin was still shouting, “Let’s go, darling! You’re too slow.”
The old butler happened to appear from a corner on his bicycle at this very moment. With a foot on the ground, he stared at Zhao Jinxin in surprise, then turned to look at Li Shuo.
Li Shuo silently scolded Zhao Jinxin for his unscrupulous mouth.
Zhao Jinxin chuckled. “I’m calling Bee.”
The butler finally reacted. “I’m going to the supermarket to buy some things.”
He then left on his bicycle.
The moment he left, Zhao Jinxin burst out laughing.
Li Shuo ran over. “You shouldn’t have called out randomly.”
“I already said that I was calling out to Bee.” Zhao Jinxin blinked. “You thought I was calling you? Thinking so highly of yourself?”
Li Shuo bent down, picking up Bee that looked just like a white bear, then tossing it onto Zhao Jinxin. “Bite him!”
Zhao Jinxin caught Bee reflexively.
Ann thought that they were playing a game, and bounding up, it lunged towards Zhao Jinxin too. Unable to clamber up, it scrabbled away at him, wanting pets and cuddles no matter what, and it nearly yanked down his athletic shorts.
Holding his belly, Li Shuo was roaring with laughter.
Zhao Jinxin too laughed. He put Bee down on the ground, reaching out and cupping Li Shuo’s face. “I haven‘t seen you laugh like this in a few days.”
Li Shuo froze, momentarily not knowing how he should react.
Ever since that thing happened, none of his smiles or laughs had been real. However, in that moment just now, he did forget the troubles he had been stuck with over the past few days, and enjoyed a hearty laugh.
To the current him, it was like a trace of sweetness in his bitterness, and it was a rather special flavour.
Li Shuo ran his hand through his hair, huffing a laugh. “Seems like I should thank you for that.”
Zhao Jinxin’s eyes were filled with gentleness. “I have to thank you, for letting me see your smile.”
Li Shuo caught his breath, his heart feeling as though it had just been punched. It did not hurt, but tingled, and it made his entire body stiffen.
As such, when Zhao Jinxin’s face drew closer, he had no time to react. Instead, he was caught by Zhao Jinxin’s pair of deep, pretty eyes.
Soft, warm lips pressed gently against Li Shuo’s. It was a kiss that was so, so light, but it seemed to create the world’s largest currents.
Li Shuo widened his eyes, pushing Zhao Jinxin away.
Zhao Jinxin stumbled back a few steps, nearly falling down. He steadied himself, and he was neither angry, nor was he disappointed, and he did not behave in his usual flippant way either. He only looked at Li Shuo deeply, his fingers touching his lips that still carried a trace of warmth, then slid a finger between his lips. His eyes carried a savage aggressiveness in them, yet it seemed extremely seductive.
Li Shuo gave a quick blink of his eyes. Despite the turmoil in his heart, not a trace could be seen in his expression, and he picked up Bee’s leash. “Let’s go back.”
“Li Shuo,” Zhao Jinxin called out from behind him. “Give up on Li Chengxiu.”
Li Shuo did not stop. He did not even turn his head around, but continued walking forward.
Back in the villa, Li Shuo locked himself in his room, exhaling slowly.
Why not take Zhao Jinxin as a test? We’ll see if in this matter, am I the master of my emotions, or am I the slave.
He calmed himself down, then remembered his phone. The battery was already fully charged, and he picked it up. There was actually a message from Li Chengxiu. His heart pounded wildly for a few moments, not knowing if he was afraid of seeing a rejection, or if he was… feeling guilty.
He opened the message.
“I’m sorry, Li-dage, I can’t go to the United States with you anymore. I’m about to be thirty, and to start anew in an unfamiliar country, I don’t have the courage to do so. Thank you for taking care of me for so long, and I’ll never be able to pay it back, only able to say thank you. I remember every moment of your kindness to me, and please forgive me for creating so much trouble for you. I plan on leaving Shenzhen, and once I’m gone, not only will Shao Qun stop troubling you, he won’t be able to trouble me as well, and this is good for everyone. I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry, I’m unworthy of your kindness. Please don’t worry about me, I have a relative running a business somewhere, and I’ll go seek him for help. Li-dage, I’m sorry, I can’t say goodbye to you face to face. I hope that everything goes well for you, and I hope that you can forgive me.”