Edited by Asa
“Oh, it’s nothing much. It’s actually your Uncle Zhao who wants to see you.”
“See me? Why?” Li Shuo was a little surprised.
He had only met the director of En Nan Group, Zhao Rongtian, twice. The first time had been during a banquet celebrating the first birthday of Zhao Rongtian’s only son. At that time, he was still very young, and his father and Zhao Rongtian were only casual acquaintances. The second time was when he was writing his thesis, and he wanted to interview a few Chinese business leaders from New York. He had not gone through his father to request for a meeting, so he had only managed to arrange for one with much difficulty. They had only spoken for ten minutes, and not only did Zhao Rongtian not know who he was, he probably had long forgotten about the interview.
“Your Uncle Zhao’s previous work was mainly focused in the Yangtze River area. Now, he wants to expand into the northern trading market, and needs to set up a branch in Beijing. He’s looking for an accounting firm for a long-term partnership, and you happen to be situated in Beijing.”
“Oh.” Li Shuo smiled, “That’s good news, we can discuss about that.”
However, they did not have to call him back to America to discuss about this matter. It was most likely that his parents were missing him. Although he was more than willing to spend time with his parents, he was unable to stop worrying about Li Chengxiu. He planned on returning immediately after meeting Zhao Rongtian, and he would bring Li Chengxiu along with him back to America during Christmas.
“Have you not met your Uncle Zhao before?”
“I have, when I was still a child. However, when you started working together, I had already left America.”
“Mn. He is a very long-sighted, wise person. You should chat a bit more with him. You also have to thank Mrs. Zhao. She was the one who had suggested to him to work with you. It’s surprising that she still remembers you.”
“Do you remember his son?”
“Vaguely. They had him when they were much older, and they treasure him a lot.” Li Shuo still had memories of that birthday banquet he attended when he was twelve. As the chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Zhao Rongtian was a celebrity in Manhattan. The birthday banquet had been like a grand social event. He was a little contentious as a child, and had been at an age where he liked to discuss about Byron with people. He was entirely unimpressed with how the Zhao family fused the west with the east together, and how they did things so publicly. He remembered that a few other children around his age wanted to carry the baby and play with him, and there was a child who even asked if they could do it. The nanny of the Zhao family pretended not to understand Chinese, her eyes almost rolling to the back of her head. After all, the child in her hands was a hard-won young master. Standing by the side, Li Shuo could see everything clearly. Although he had been was very curious about that beautiful baby who smiled at everyone, he did not take a single step towards it.
“Your Uncle Zhao has assigned his son to Beijing to manage the branch office. You’ll meet him this time as well. In the future, you guys will be family friends as well as business partners.”
Li Shuo laughed. “Sure.”
Zhao Rongtian and his wife were famous for pampering their son. He was doubtful about that person’s capabilities, and hoped that he was not someone difficult to deal with. If not, it would be troublesome for him to be caught between Zhao Rongtian and his father.
“Why are you discussing all this the moment he arrives home? Our son hasn’t even had dinner yet,” Mrs. Li took her son’s hand. “Dinner will start soon, let me show you the little cabbages I grew first. They look extremely vibrant and fresh.”
Li Shuo smiled and followed.
By the time dinner was done, Li Shuo was exhausted. He showered and headed to bed.
When he woke up, the sky was dark. Looking at his watch, Li Chengxiu should be awake at this time, but his parents were already preparing to sleep.
Li Shuo snapped a photo of his unshaven self and sent it to Li Chengxiu. In the photo, he looked fatigued. Jet lag was really troublesome.
Li Chengxiu replied very quickly: You seem very tired, have a good rest.
Li Shuo dialled his number.
The phone rang for quite some time before it was answered. A gentle, cautious voice was heard. “A long distance call… must be very expensive, right? Let’s just talk through texts.”
Li Shuo chuckled. “It’s fine, I just want to hear your voice.”
Li Chengxiu laughed lightly. “What time is it over there now?”
“It’s 10pm. I wanted to let you and my mother video chat with each other, but she’s asleep already.”
“Video chat…” Li Chengxiu responded timidly, “It’s, it’s not a very good idea, isn’t it?”
“Does it matter? Didn’t I tell you before that both my parents know my sexual orientation, and they respect me as well.”
“But….” The voice on the phone sounded very hesitant.
“If you don’t feel comfortable, then we won’t do a video chat. How about a normal call? My parents are very curious about you.”
“Once I’ve settled the matter I’ll come home quickly to spend time with you. If you’re bored, go look for Xiaohui to play. Don’t stay at home and remain glum, ok?”
“Chengxiu,” Li Shuo spoke gently. “You’ll like my parents, and my parents will also like you. Next to me, you don’t have to have any worries.”
A soft sigh came from the phone, and Li Chengxiu said quietly, “I know, Li da-ge.”
The next morning, Li Shuo and his father went to play tennis. This was a sport the family of three had been playing since he was a child. In university, he had participated in the national tennis tournament amongst America’s colleges, and he even entered the quarterfinals.
After a morning of exercise, he took his parents to a french restaurant they usually went for lunch, and accompanied his mother on a shopping trip in the afternoon.
As the only child, he spent most of the year overseas, and it always felt like he was indebted to his parents. Each time he came home, he would spend most of his time with his family.
Returning home in the evening, he changed his clothes, and Uncle Guang drove the family of three to attend Zhao Rongtian’s family party.
Because of Uncle Guang, Mr. Li had recently started liking Kunqu opera. In the car, the two of them started singing along with each other, and both Li Shuo and his mother could not stop laughing.
Zhao Rongtian lived in the upper east side of the central area, next to Central Park. He had built a small man-made lake, and it was the only Chinese-styled mansion in the upper east side. Li Shuo remembered that this mansion had even appeared on Chinese media before, but this was his first time here.
Under the direction of the security guard, Uncle Guang stopped the car at the entrance of the mansion.
Li Shuo spoke, “Uncle Guang, don’t fall asleep while listening to these songs. Remember to leave a crack open in the window.”
Uncle Guang waved him off. “I won’t.”
“Be good, wait for us, ok?” Li Shuo laughed as he patted Uncle Guang on the shoulder.
Mrs. Li stepped out of the car, and Li Shuo bent over to straighten her slightly crumpled skirt.
In that moment, he heard a baritone voice calling out his father’s name.
Looking up, it was Zhao Rongtian and his wife coming out to welcome them. Behind the couple was a tall young man.
When Li Shuo saw that person’s face, his mind exploded.
Zhao, Zhao Jinxin?!
Zhao Jinxin gave him a meaningful glance before revealing an adorable and appeasing smile. “Hello, Uncle Li, Auntie Li. I haven’t seen the both of you in a while. How did Auntie Li become even more youthful and pretty?”
Mrs. Li smiled till her eyes curved into crescents. “Jinxin has grown up already, yet his words are still very sweet.”
Zhao Jinxin’s eyes fell onto Li Shuo, and he looked delighted. “Is this Da-ge? He’s very handsome.”
“Hello.” Li Shuo nodded at Zhao Jinxin. It was as though the two of them had never met before, and he gave a personable smile. “Hello Uncle Zhao, Auntie Zhao.”
“Aiyoh, what a talented looking man.” Zhao Rongtian observed Li Shuo and smiled, “The last time I saw you, you were still a child.”
Mr. Li exclaimed, “Exactly, the last time you saw him, Jinxin had just started to crawl. In a blink of an eye, our children have all grown up, and we’re all old now.”
Mrs. Zhao smiled. “In the past, it was either Jinxin who wasn’t around, or it was Li Shuo. This is the first time that the six of us have been able to get together. Quick, come into the house so we can chat properly.”
The four elders led the way, while Zhao Jinxin and Li Shuo followed behind.
Zhao Jinxin turned to look at Li Shuo, whispering, “I did say that we were going to see each other again.” A laugh could be heard in his voice, as well as some self-assurance.
Li Shuo looked steadily forward at his father’s back. He pretended not to hear anything, and entered the house with quick steps.
With this coincidence that he could neither laugh nor cry about, Li Shuo’s astonishment had already faded into calmness. However, thinking about the relationship between their fathers, he started worrying that he would not be able to draw the line with this person. Li Shuo did not like to mix business and pleasure. Avoiding trouble was way more important than making money, and he probably had to reconsider their upcoming partnership.
At the meal, the heads of the families mainly discussed about the stock market, while the two ladies politely showed off their own sons. Zhao Jinxin and Li Shuo sat across from each other, and Li Shuo kept smiling and looking at his mother, avoiding unnecessary eye contact with Zhao Jinxin.
Zhao Jinxin raised his glass. “Da-ge, here, let’s have a drink.”
Li Shuo raised his glass elegantly, clinking it with his.
Mrs. Zhao laughed behind her hand. “Your age gap is a little big, if not you would have definitely grew up as childhood friends.”
“What a pity, if only I could have met Da-ge earlier,” Zhao Jinxin could not sound any more earnest.
Li Shuo smiled. “Exactly.”
“What sort of interests does Da-ge have normally? What do you usually do?”
“Tennis, skiing and scuba diving. You?”
“I happen to like them too. Next time, let’s go together.”
Li Shuo smiled faintly. “Sure.”
“Xiaoshuo, when Jinxin goes to China next time, you have to take good care of this little brother,” Mrs. Li instructed.
“Of course.” Li Shuo smiled brightly and agreed. He then turned to Zhao Rongtian. “Uncle Zhao, I heard from my father that you plan on expanding to the northern trade market.”
“Yes, aren’t you based in Beijing? It would be so much more reliable if we are working together.” Zhao Rongtian waved him off, “However, we’re only eating and chatting today. Come to my office tomorrow and we’ll talk business then.”
Li Shuo smiled and nodded.
Zhao Jinxin spoke up. “Da-ge, would you like more steak?”
“Oh, no thanks. I’m full.”
“If you’re done eating, shall I take you to the lake for a walk? It’ll be good for digestion.”
Li Shuo was about to reject it, but his dad responded. “Go ahead! Have a good chat between you youngsters.”
Li Shuo slowly wiped his mouth. He glanced sharply at Zhao Jinxin, and Zhao Jinxin gave him an especially innocent smile.
Li Shuo stood up, smiling lightly, with a “please” gesture. He wanted to see what other sort of trouble could Zhao Jinxin come up with.
The man-made lake built by the Zhao family was just next to Central Park. The design was very clever. Not only were they able to view the beautiful scenery of Central Park, but when it became dark or foggy with the buildings around them not being that obvious, it made it look as though the entire Central Park was the Zhao family’s back garden.
Li Shuo squinted at the lake under the night sky. The breeze that blew was light and refreshing.
“The scenery here isn’t bad, right?” Zhao Jinxin placed his hands behind his head, breathing in deeply.
“It’s beautiful.” Li Shuo said sincerely.
Zhao Jinxin smiled lightly. “I forgot how old I was when we moved here. Every time I came close to this lake when I was a kid, there would always be someone following me, as though they were afraid that I would fall in. Would I be that stupid?”
Li Shuo thought, Zhao Jinxin was the only descendant of the Zhao family, and a son Zhao Rongtian had when he was nearly forty. He was basically their lifeblood, and it would not be surprising if they employed 8 people to watch over him 24/7.
Li Shuo did not reply. He was waiting for Zhao Jinxin to speak or do something. He did not want to admit it, but he was a little curious about what exactly Zhao Jinxin dared to do.
Zhao Jinxin bent over, picking up a stone from the grass. He threw it at the lake with some force.
A splash, and the stone sunk into the lake. Under the moon, small ripples followed.
Li Shuo remained expressionless, but he was on guard. After all, Zhao Jinxin had performed a “sneak attack” on him on the airplane.
“Although it’s nice here, I still prefer my apartment.” Zhao Jinxin laughed lowly, “It’s on the highest floor, nearly 200m from the ground. There are no other buildings around that are taller.”
Li Shuo recalled what Zhao Jinxin had said on the plane, and child-unfriendly images could not help but appear in his brain.
Next to him, Zhao Jinxin continued, “Stripping naked, we can go into the pool, exposing ourselves to the air and sun. It’ll feel like there’s nothing else in the world, but once we look down, we can see the cars going back and forth on the street, and the children flying kites at Riverside Park. But no one would be able to see you, and what you’re doing. You’ll feel embarrassed at the start, but soon you’ll…”
“Enough.” Li Shuo cut him off. He suddenly discovered that his thoughts were all about Zhao Jinxin. Whether it was guessing what Zhao Jinxin would do, or thinking about the lewd images Zhao Jinxin forced into his head, his thoughts were completely immersed in this person, and this was not good. He paused, smiling a little resignedly, “Jinxin, your methods are useless towards me. This has nothing to do with your charm. Because of our fathers, let’s just pretend like nothing happened in the plane. Isn’t it nice if we’re just friends?”
Zhao Jinxin cast a sidelong glance at him, then burst into laughter. “They’re really useless? Did you like the photos I sent you?”
“I do, your body is very nice.” Li Shuo admitted openly.
Zhao Jinxin fluttered his eyelashes at him. “There’s something even better. Would you like to look at it?”
Li Shuo placed his hands in his pockets, smiling as he shook his head. “If you can’t interact normally with me, then it’s best if we don’t interact at all.”
Zhao Jinxin studied him for two seconds and laughed. “Fine, I won’t tease you anymore.”
Li Shuo lifted his wrist to look at his watch, “I’ll head back first.”
Zhao Jinxin grabbed his arm. “Why are you in such a hurry? How about we go to the lake?”
“No need, it’s already so dark…”
“It’s more fun when it’s dark. We can release fireworks near the lake, it’ll be extremely pretty.”
Li Shuo politely yet firmly retrieved his arm. “No need, I have a limited amount of time here, and I’d like to spend more time with my parents.” He nodded at Zhao Jinxin, turning around and walked back.
Zhao Jinxin watched his departing figure, a smile still on his lips.
It was only when Li Shuo had vanished into the dark that Zhao Jinxin took his phone out and dialled a number. He spoke lazily into it, “Hey, Ge, I saw him already.”
“Mn. Your eye isn’t bad, he’s completely to my taste.”
“Brother-in-law’s eye isn’t bad too…” Before he could finish his sentence, Zhao Jinxin pulled his phone a distance away from his ear. He waited for the roaring to end, then smiled, “Don’t be so fierce, I’m just joking. With your bad temper, you’ll shorten your lifespan.”
“Ge, don’t worry. It’s a little difficult, but…” Zhao Jinxin narrowed his eyes, “It’s more fun like this.”