Translated by zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
That particular day, the first snow of March fell quietly on the New Independent Republic capital. It began in the morning and lasted a few hours.
The ultrasound room had a big window that let people see a patch of a garden. The trimmed bush was round and furry, covered in a thin layer of white velvet. Occasionally, snowflakes were blown against the insulated glass.
Inside the room, the temperature was always maintained at twenty-eight degrees, dry and comfortable, unlike the hot and humid atmosphere in the TIS.
Zhang Jue’s body temperature had warmed the gel, and there was nothing near him that was drawing heat away, yet he felt cold.
He looked at Dr. He, who averted his gaze and handed him a paper towel.
Zhang Jue took it and slowly wiped himself. For some reason, he suddenly felt that the skin on his abdomen became sensitive, as if reluctant to be touched.
An indescribable feeling of discomfort rose from the middle of his ribcage, spreading to his throat, his upper jaw, like a soft hook that caught the back of his neck, pulling him up and forcing him to wake up and say something.
Anything was fine, any kind of opinion or comment.
However, Zhang Jue wiped at his abdomen in a stupor, put his clothes back on, and sat there, dazed.
Dr. He waited until he was done tidying himself, then raised his hand to press something on the screen. The printer of the ultrasound machine sprang to life after a beep.
“Your family will need to be informed about this, I’m afraid.” Dr. He spoke in a hushed tone, “Your situation is a little complicated.”
Zhang Jue stared at the printer that was producing the ultrasound result, unable to speak.
“Are you done?”
His mother seemed to have heard the sound and pulled the white curtains apart and came in. She saw Zhang Jue sitting there dumbfounded, and asked, “Why did it take so long?” She turned to Dr. He. “Dr. He, how is Zhang Jue doing?”
Zhang Jue turned to look at Dr. He, who looked back at him with the ultrasound results in his hands.
After Zhang Jue nodded slightly, Dr. He handed the results to his mother.
His mother frowned and muttered, “What’s going on?”, while scanning the ultrasound result anxiously. After a moment, her expression changed completely.
Zhang Jue stared at his mother, who almost lost her grip on the paper. She raised her head and made eye contact with Dr. He.
“He’s pregnant?” His mother asked Dr. He. Her feet moved, and the heel of her shoes clicked against the floor.
“But he just had his surgery! I thought they said his birth cavity was not well developed because of the alpha pheromones?”
Dr. He carefully phrased his reply to be considerate of his mother, “Theoretically, he is capable of getting pregnant already.”
“However,” He looked at Zhang Jue, “if you want to keep the baby, the birth cavity may not be able to take it. Even if the child is safe during the term, there is a possibility of premature birth.”
The room was dead silent, and after a long moment, his mother declared, “I’m calling your father.”
She looked at Zhang Jue like she had a lot to ask him, but in the end, she just lowered her head and dialed his father.
She was vague in the call and just told him to come immediately, emphasizing that it was something very important. After she hung up, Dr. He brought them to the VIP lounge and waited there with them.
Perhaps to relieve the tense atmosphere, Dr. He turned on the television in the lounge, but Zhang Jue’s mother switched it off soon after.
After a few minutes of sitting in silence, Dr. He’s phone rang. He looked at it and went out of the room to pick it up, but before he got out of earshot, Zhang Jue heard him saying, “Hello, Mr. Zhang.”
His father arrived much sooner than Zhang Jue expected. Within twenty minutes, he pushed open the door of the lounge. His father was wearing a long black coat, looking like he had just gotten out of a meeting. He silently stalked towards Dr. He and looked at Zhang Jue’s ultrasound.
The doctor succinctly informed him about the ultrasound and the situation with Zhang Jue’s birth cavity, then left quickly.
As soon as the door shut, Zhang Jue’s father looked over at him.
“When did this happen?”
Zhang Jue made eye contact with his father, and before long he replied, “Back in North America.”
His father was stunned, and asked, “…The night I spoke to you about it?” His tone was furious for the first time in a long time, as if he could not believe that Zhang Jue was messing around with Chen Boqiao right after they had the conversation about staying away from him.
Zhang Jue nodded subtly. Zhang Fu looked at Zhang Jue from above, standing unmovingly. “Zhang Jue, I just want to know, when you have sex, do you not know about protection?” His father sounded calm again, the anger seeping out of his voice, but his words made Zhang Jue feel ashamed.
“How old are you, Zhang Jue? You just had surgery, do you not know about the condition of your body?”
His mother sat by the side, her hand clutching the armrest. She looked at Zhang Jue and asked quietly, “Dear, who is it?”
The VIP lounge was not very spacious: just fifty square meters with a dark-colored carpet and some modern art hanging on the light blue walls.
Zhang Jue avoided his parent’s gazes, peering at the artworks in his peripheral vision. He wanted to distract himself and stop the burning feeling in his eyes and nose, and make himself as calm and composed as his father.
But he was the least proper person in the house.
He stirred up a lot of trouble, and his entire family had to bear the consequences.
“Zhang Jue,” his father called again.
Zhang Jue blinked hard and looked at his father. His vision was blurry, but after blinking hard, he could see clearly again.
“This child,” his father asked, “are you planning to keep it?”
Zhang Jue stayed quiet, so he followed with, “So, you do?”
Zhang Jue felt his mouth was dry and his limbs were jelly. He couldn’t think of an answer and wanted to say that he didn’t know. Yet, he heard himself telling his father, “Yes.”
His father went silent for a few seconds, “What family name would the child take after you give birth to it, then? Zhang, or Chen?”
His mother froze. She looked at his father and slowly squeezed out, “Chen……as in Chen Boqiao?”
“You ask him,” Zhang Fu raised his chin towards Zhang Jue. “Is it him, Zhang Jue”
Zhang Jue felt like he was being pressed down to the bottom of the ocean by a big pair of hands. He was going to be crushed by the pressure of the water, the seawater filling his lungs and his body, stopping him from thinking and breathing.
The father and son continued their silence, until his father finally said, “If you really want to keep it, call Chen Boqiao now.”
“Whether or not he wants the child,” His father said, “You tell him yourself. You do have his number, don’t you?”
“I have it.”
“Then call him.” His father sat down next to his mother a few meters away and waited expectantly.
Zhang Jue used his phone to dial Chen Boqiao. He did not save his number and always just dialed from memory. However, for some reason, this day he spent almost half a minute dialing, pressing wrongly a few times.
After the call went out, Zhang Jue put the phone next to his ear. Before long, it had gotten through, but Chen Boqiao did not pick up. The call automatically ended after a beep and Zhang Jue looked down at the phone screen that gave him the option to redial.
“He’s not picking up?” Zhang Jue’s father asked. He raised a wrist to look at the time and said, “It’s only 10 P.M. in the Asian League, Colonel Chen sure goes to bed early.”
Zhang Jue wordlessly dialed again. This time, the call did not take long to be picked up, but the gentle male voice on the other side was one that Zhang Jue was not familiar with.
“Hello, Mr. Chen is on the way to an emergency meeting right n—”
Before he could finish, he was interrupted by a question from someone. His answer was muted on the phone, “The caller…is ‘Zhang Jue’.”
The person suddenly stopped speaking and there was some noise in the speaker, and someone took over the phone. After a few seconds, Chen Boqiao’s voice was heard, “I was busy just now, the secretary was holding the phone.”
“Emergency meeting this late?” Zhang Jue asked.
“Oh,” Chen Boqiao chuckled lightly, “it’s not that urgent, are your check-ups done?”
Zhang Jue said, “Mm-hm,” and felt that his chest was hollow as he clutched his phone. He moved his lips and said quietly, “Chen Boqiao…”
Before Chen Boqiao could say anything else, he said, “I’m pregnant.”
After his announcement, it felt like the world had halted to a stop.
His parents at the side, as well as Chen Boqiao on the phone, both became very silent.
Zhang Jue thought that Chen Boqiao was probably shocked as well since he did not speak for the better half of a minute. Zhang Jue had never seen Chen Boqiao so stunned, and in his daze, he almost felt that it was a shame that he could only hear it on the phone.
But it might have been just him, as the noise on Chen Boqiao’s side became more intense, so chaotic that Zhang Jue felt a twinge in his heart.
Zhang Jue did not know what else he could say, and after a while he told Chen Boqiao unpromptedly, “Maybe you should go back to work first.”
“We’ll talk about this later.” Zhang Jue quickly added, “When you’re freer—”
“—Zhang Jue,” Chen Boqiao stopped him from rambling. “I’m not busy right now, let’s talk about it now.”
Zhang Jue grabbed his phone tightly and told him, “Okay.”
Chen Boqiao paused before asking Zhang Jue, “Is it the night in North America?”
“Yes.” Zhang Jue lowered his eyes and pressed his elbows on his knees, staring at the patterns on the carpet. He told Chen Boqiao, “Probably.”
“So what now?” He asked Chen Boqiao, and in that question, he also asked himself.
Unfortunately, there happened to be someone who started speaking hurriedly on Chen Boqiao’s side. Their voices were loud, and Zhang Jue felt that Chen Boqiao might not have heard the question. He could not bear to ask it again.
Chen Boqiao could be heard saying “wait”, perhaps to that person or perhaps to Zhang Jue, but soon the chaos on the other side of the call disappeared.
“Zhang Jue,” Chen Boqiao was at a quieter place now, saying his name gently. “I’m here.”
“How were the other parts of the check-up?” Chen Boqiao asked. “Do your parents know?”
“They know,” Zhang Jue answered.
Then he heard Chen Boqiao take a long breath.
It was an interesting sound. Zhang Jue could not tell Chen Boqiao’s attitude or his opinion, so he decided to imagine what Chen Boqiao was thinking.
Chen Boqiao did not take long. The first thing he said was, “I’m sorry.”
Zhang Jue blinked, the muted pain in his chest seeping out like hot steam. He did not know what to make of Chen Boqiao’s apology, nor how to respond.
In the end, Zhang Jue just said, “It’s okay.”
Having sex was Zhang Jue’s personal choice anyway. Zhang Jue thought, if Chen Boqiao did not want the child, it was fine as well.
It was clear that Zhang Jue was not ready for it. Zhang Jue was unprepared, unsure, and with no experience. He had nothing and could not be responsible for a new life anyway, it would be for the best if he doesn’t keep the child.
Chen Boqiao was right.
“Zhang Jue, my apology isn’t what you think,” Chen Boqiao’s voice in the speaker paused, but was still rational and gentle. “Don’t overthink.”
Zhang Jue did not speak. Chen Boqiao continued to Zhang Jue, “I know you must be scared, but I’m really happy right now.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Everything happens with a surprise when it’s with you. I’m saying sorry because I feel that we’ve always been pushed along by all these surprises and we’re so unprepared.”
Zhang Jue thought he heard some helplessness in Chen Boqiao’s voice, but his kind and sure tone made Zhang Jue’s fear and uncertainty dissipate.
They listened to each other’s breathing and contemplated the silence.
“Zhang Jue,” Chen Boqiao suddenly asked, “Do you want to get married?”
“Whether or not you want the child,” he added.
After a long silence, Zhang Jue replied, “Yes.”
“About your father…” Chen Boqiao asked, “Is he with you now?”
Zhang Jue gave an affirmative reply and Chen Boqiao asked Zhang Jue to pass the phone to his father.
Zhang Jue’s father heard that Chen Boqiao wanted to speak with him and took the phone despite his stormy expression.
During the phone conversation between Chen Boqiao and Zhang Fu, Chen Boqiao spoke more and Zhang Jue’s father spoke little.
Zhang Jue sat on the sofa and listened carefully.
Soon, Zhang Jue’s father had a frown on his face and asked some sensitive questions, but it seems that Chen Boqiao gave a somewhat satisfactory answer, as he did not continue with the questioning.
At the end of the conversation, Zhang Jue’s father considered Chen Boqiao’s request for a long time and eventually agreed.