Translated by zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Zhang Jue opened his eyes, and hearing small noises, realized that there was no one around him.
He stared at the unlit chandelier and the European-style ceiling.
He sat up.
Rays of sunlight peeked through the thick curtains of the living room, and there was light emanating from the LEDs under the cabinet. On his left, he could see Chen Boqiao in his new suit, tying his tie.
Before Zhang Jue opened his mouth, Chen Boqiao looked over. “You’re awake.”
Zhang Jue acknowledged him with a noise. Chen Boqiao turned his gaze to the mirror again, and checked his appearance once over. He walked over to Zhang Jue.
He strode over to the bed and looked down at Zhang Jue. He paused for a moment before leaning down to kiss his forehead.
His warm lips stayed on Zhang Jue’s forehead for a few seconds before moving away.
Just then, the grandfather clock chimed and interrupted the mood. Zhang Jue jumped and said that it was time for Chen Boqiao to go.
But Chen Boqiao did not move. As if he did not hear the clock, he gently placed a hand on Zhang Jue’s bare shoulders, gazing into his eyes intently, his callused fingers caressing Zhang Jue’s skin.
The dim room, the well dressed and silent lover, and the scent of sex lingering in the air made it feel like a scene of marital bliss.
Perhaps because they slept while cuddled up together last night, Zhang Jue’s scent was mixed in with the pheromones of Chen Boqiao. Along with the fresh smell of his cologne and his own scent, it smelled mysterious and suggestive.
“You can go back to sleep,” Chen Boqiao said. “Text me when you get home tonight?”
Zhang Jue looked at Chen Boqiao and nodded. Chen Boqiao stood up straight and bid him goodbye quietly. He picked up his luggage from beside the floor-length mirror and walked to the entrance.
From where he was on the bed, Zhang Jue could not see the door. He hugged the duvet and listened closely. He heard Chen Boqiao’s shoes clicking against the marble floor, then the light sound of the door.
Zhang Jue spaced out for a while and got off the bed. Chen Boqiao was gone.
He hesitantly raised his hand and rested his fingertip on the door handle Chen Boqiao had touched and remembered how when he opened the door for Chen Boqiao while on the phone with him, he was smiling at him with a hand on the doorbell. He opened his hand to grab the door handle, but did not press down.
There was no one waiting outside now.
Within ten minutes of Chen Boqiao leaving, Zhang Jue’s mother called.
“Dear,” His mother asked, “if you’re up, do you want to eat brunch with us later?”
She informed him that Mr Zhu’s family and another family would be there, and a casual outfit was enough for the simple meal in the garden of the hotel.
Zhang Jue told his mother that he’d be at the lobby in half an hour. After washing up, he went into the changing room and opened his luggage. After he changed into his clothing, he remembered that this was the suitcase he brought from the Thai Independent State to North America, so the anti-scan box containing the guns and knives was still in the hidden compartment.
Inexplicably, Zhang Jue squatted down to open the hidden compartment. He could not say what he wanted to do, but he unlocked one of the locks on the compartment.
The strap sprung open with a loud noise, as if bursting open with the item inside.
Zhang Jue jumped back and found it strange. The box was the same height as the compartment, so it was not supposed to burst open unless there was something else inside. As he opened another lock, a corner of the compartment lifted up immediately.
Something soft could be seen filling up the corner.
Zhang Jue stared at the crumpled silk bag and fished it out. He undid the string and found the gift he’d left in the safe house in the Thai Independent State.
It was the cat plushie he had given Chen Boqiao.
The compartment was made of plastic and too small for the toy, and its ears were flattened against itself, having suffered at the hands of a brute and stuffed together with the guns and knives.
Zhang Jue petted the fur of the toy and tried to fluff up the ears again, when suddenly he saw a sticky note on its belly. The note was not too crumpled and the ink looked old. It said, “Be careful with it, remember to give it back to me. –Chen Boqiao.”
Zhang Jue thought that Chen Boqiao wasn’t careful with it at all, stuffing it in like this. As he thought, he didn’t cherish it.
Yet, he sat in the changing room for a long time, trying to smoothen out Chen Boqiao’s plushie until his mother called to hurry him down.
When Zhang Jue and his parents got to the diner in the garden, everyone else was already in their seats.
The sun was nice, and the restaurant smelled like flowers. Ms. Zhu, who was wearing a casual outfit and light makeup, waved to Zhang Jue with a smile.
The other family present was a middle-aged couple that Zhang Jue saw last night. The husband was Li Xiu, a senior finance ministry official who was a good friend of his father. The wife was also on good terms with his mother.
After getting seated, their parents casually discussed current affairs. Zhang Jue was seated beside Ms. Zhu. He was tired and feeling under the weather, so he sipped his water and listened to them.
The Asian League and Chen Boqiao were unavoidable topics in current affairs. Zhang Jue could tell that his father was reluctant to talk about the man, but he could also see that his father hadn’t told his mother yet.
His mother did not look unhappy and nodded along to Mrs. Li when she said that Chen Boqiao was a polite and intelligent young man.
Ms. Zhu also chimed in, “I suppose it’s true when they say that Colonel Chen has a simplistic personal life. He stayed away from me other than when he let me thread my arms through his when we got here.”
Zhang Jue found it amusing, but did not dare react as his father’s gaze pierced him from across the table.
After their return to the New Independent Republic, Zhang Jue’s father became even busier than before for some reasons. He never mentioned his work much at home, so Zhang Jue didn’t know what he was working on.
It was no different for Chen Boqiao. His calls to Zhang Jue changed to five to six in the morning, Asian League time, when it was the afternoon in the NIR. It was as if he could only find some personal time early in the morning. Despite that, the calls never stopped.
Fifty days after the surgery, Zhang Jue returned to the hospital for a checkup. His mother accompanied him, and Dr. He was receiving them.
He removed the gauze for Zhang Jue, who asked his mother to take a picture of it for him to see.
His mother held Zhang Jue’s phone, and was reluctant to do so. Zhang Jue reached his hand to the back of his neck and gingerly traced the long scar. There was no complaint in him, he just thought about getting an appointment to remove it, and retracted his hands.
The procedures of the checkup were the same as before, and since Zhang Jue had been feeling well recently, he was rather relaxed. Dr. He brought him to the ultrasound room again, and this time Zhang Jue’s mother was waiting outside the curtains.
Zhang Jue laid on the bed with his trousers pulled down slightly, waiting for Dr. He to spread the gel with the probe quietly.
When they got to the lower abdomen, Dr. He suddenly stopped.
After a few seconds, he let go and the image on the monitor disappeared. He looked at Zhang Jue with no expression, but he was pale.
Then, he picked up the probe and stared at the monitor screen again.
The icy metal probe moved across Zhang Jue’s belly, turning. Dr. He looked at the screen and did not speak for a long time.
“Are you done yet?” His mother inquired quietly from behind the curtain.
Zhang Jue’s heart sank as time slowly passed.
“Dr. He?” He asked with a dry mouth.
Dr. He finally moved his eyes away from the screen. He checked the curtain that was separating Zhang Jue and his mother, and in a barely audible voice he told Zhang Jue, “There’s a gestational sac in your birth cavity.”