Shen touches Zhao on the forehead, “you have a bit of a fever, what are you doing standing there? Get in bed and cover yourself with the blanket.”
Only then does Zhao realise that his head is growing heavy, and Shen pushes him as he stumbles into the bedroom.
Shen pours him some warm water, and brings the medicine; he says softly, “take the medicine, and go back to sleep; don’t mind me, I’ll make you something to eat.”
Zhao’s messy mind starts thinking: if a tasty sheep enters a wolf’s lair, would the wolf go to sleep?
The wolf would probably…
But perhaps his fever is rather serious, or maybe the medicine causes drowsiness; after a minute, Zhao falls asleep.
Shen spends a long time unpacking all the stuff he bought, and fills up the mostly empty refrigerator with food. He searches the kitchen, and finds out that there are an ample of cooking utensils; all brand new, still in their packages with price tags.
Shen takes out a clay pot, washes it, and prepares the ingredients. He starts cooking for a while, then turns to medium heat, adds the seasoning and lets it simmer slowly.
Shen washes his hands, warms them on the heater, and softly walks into the room. Zhao is fast asleep, and Shen gently puts his arms back under the duvet.
He stands by the edge of the bed, and looks down at Zhao for a while. Then, he carefully extends his hand, and gently caresses his hair; it’s really soft. Shen lightly touches his face, but quickly retracts. He lets out a deep breath, closes his eyes, and silently kisses his own fingers; his expression marked with devotion.
Shen doesn’t know how he managed to leave Zhao’s apartment last night. He wandered on the streets aimlessly until he realised that his limbs were going numb. He’s like a moth that suddenly understood its fate, desperately trying to resist the temptation of the flame; the struggle between reason and instinct agonises him to death.
And after all this mental torture, he only managed to get through one night.
He is sick, and nobody will take care of him, so I have to look after him… as a friend; Shen tries to convince himself. But no-one knows better than himself what’s really going on.
Shen laughs at himself mockingly, and picks up Zhao’s cloak on the floor, folds it and puts it on the chair. He notices a pottery tray on the floor, with some residue ash.
Shen wipes off the ashes and rubs them in his hands, as they fall, the ashes turn pale white, like the energy inside has been absorbed.
“A Hell Guard?” He lifts his glasses, looks up at the tightly-closed curtains, and frowns. He thinks of something.
Zhao finally awakens from his deep slumber, and the sun is already shining brightly through the curtains. He is soaked in sweat, and the blanket sticks to him uncomfortably. His head feels dizzy, and his nose slowly picks up on an unfamiliar aroma. Zhao is excited, and instantly bounces up.
He sees Shen sitting on the small couch, quietly reading an old ghost novel. He lowers his head in concentration, and his eyes look as though they come from a beautiful painting; Zhao is lost for words, and stares at him dumbly.
Shen looks up and smiles, “you’re awake, are you feeling better?”
Zhao nods, half-awake; Shen touches his forehead, and the fever is gone, “what about your stomach, still painful?”
Zhao shakes his head. He realises that his clothes have all been tidied up into a nice pile next to the bed; the clothes are still warm from the heater.
“I turned on the heater in the bathroom, go take a shower and get changed; I made you something to eat.”
Zhao silently takes his clothes and goes into the bathroom.
As if dreaming, Zhao has a very peculiar and exquisite feeling. He left his parents when he was young, and got used to frivolous, single life very early on. He can’t remember the last time he woke up to the smell of food and someone urging him to take a shower.
When he finishes and gets changed, he shockingly realises that his chaotic apartment has been cleaned and tidied up. As the perpetually-closed curtains are finally open, and the windows as well for some fresh air, the entire apartment has a refreshing sensation.
Zhao miraculously feels embarrassed. He walks to the kitchen, and sees Shen open the lid of the clay pot, as a strong pleasant smell comes floating out. Zhao realises he is quite hungry.
It’s as if there were a string in his heart, and someone plucked it, not violently, but the resonance seems to echo for days.
“I bought two tickets at the theatre for tonight, and I was gonna take you to see a play after dinner.” Zhao suddenly says.
Shen looks at him, turns off the stove, and takes the rice and soup, “help me take this out.”
Zhao sluggishly walks over, and brings the food to the table; he laughs, “but now you being here with me feels too great, and I don’t wanna go anymore.”
“It’s cold at night, better not leave the apartment,” Shen tries to brush him off.
Zhao sits opposite to Shen, his eyes sparkle as he gazes at the Professor, “I’m not kidding, Shen Wei, if you accept me, I will sell this place tomorrow and buy a much bigger house right next to your school.”
Shen doesn’t make a sound.
Zhao continues, “I’ve never thought of buying a house before, I found it burdensome, but now I understand the saying: if you want to get the girl, buy her a big house to live in.”
This is naked flirtation; Shen stiffly avoids his gaze, “eat, or the food will get cold.”
Zhao suddenly puts his hand on top of Shen’s, “I know I don’t look like it, but I’m serious.”
Shen’s hand is still cold, and Zhao can’t help but hold it even tighter; the other person vigorously quivers.
Shen raises his head abruptly, his eyes are not friendly as usual, but from Zhao’s perspective, they seem a little aggressive. Shen stares at him for a while, and swings away his hand heavily; he lowers his tone, “you should marry a woman and have children, you’re still young; don’t be ridiculous.”
Zhao is startled by his reaction, “no, why is this ridiculous?”
Shen asks, “if you’re involved with a man, how do you explain it to your parents? If you don’t have children, who will take care of you when you get old?”
Zhao asks incredulously, “explain what? Why do I have to explain? I’m not responsible for procreating and sustaining the human race, Professor Shen, are you… are you an alien?”
Shen realises he cannot communicate with Zhao, especially not with these unconvincing, self-delusional excuses; he stops speaking and silently eats.
Zhao studies Shen, he cannot believe such a pleasant beauty would turn out to be an old-fashioned pedant; he dejectedly gobbles down half a bowl of soup, and tests the waters, “when it comes to children, you can’t know for sure: even if you get married, you might not have kids, even if you have kids, you might not be able to raise them up, and even if you raise them, you can’t always expect them to take care of you when you’re old. I’d rather invest in A-shares. Besides, if you really want kids, surrogacy is always a choice, it’s very easy these days.”
Zhao continues, “if it makes you painful you ought to think more, otherwise you’ll repeat the same mistakes; but if it makes you happy, you ought to think less, and just do what you want to do. If it’s the end of the world today, and you’ve never followed what your heart truly desires, wouldn’t that be a shame?”
Shen pauses and says, “how can you just do what you want to do all the time?”
“Right,” Zhao says, “other people mistreat you, but would you do that to yourself? Then what’s the fun in living?”
Zhao notices Shen’s tone softening, and extends his two legs in a relaxed pose; he asks, “then will you go watch a movie with me next weekend?”
Shen hesitates, but shakes his head eventually.
Zhao is instantly disheartened.
Shen cannot bear to see his expression like this, and explains, “I have a trip on Wednesday, I need to take the students out on a field trip; I’m substituting one of my colleagues.”
Oh? There is a chance, Zhao can clearly feel it; there is a small gap in Shen’s tightly shut door.
“Where? For how long?”
Shen ignores the first question, “around a week.”
Zhao doesn’t follow up; even if Shen doesn’t tell him, he can figure it out himself.
He merrily finishes his meal.
In the afternoon, Zhao thinks of all sorts of ridiculous reasons and cheap tricks to use on Shen. He takes out all the old movies in his collection, and turns on his home cinema for the very first time, and forces Shen to stay until nighttime.
If possible, Zhao would’ve begged him to stay longer, but he can clearly feel that as night approaches, Shen becomes more tense and uneasy. And as a long-term planner, Zhao decides to be careful with such a delicate situation; he doesn’t want to scare Shen. He resists the temptation and lets him go, for now.
After all, he will still have a lot of chances in the future.