He Gu knew Gu Qingpei would ask him about this, so he cleared his throat and answered, “Chief Gu, what do you want to know?”
Gu Qingpei chuckled. “Just chatting. I’m just curious. So, you two are school friends? Then you must’ve known him for many years now?”
“Oh, that’s very long.”
“Yes.” Ten years… He Gu felt his heart stir.
Ten years sounded very long. Looking back now, it seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye. At times, he felt as if everything happened yesterday, and sometimes, as if waking from a dream, everything became a confused daze. The older he got, the more he felt as if time just flew by. Life was indeed very short.
“You and him… I really couldn’t imagine you two together. I’m not saying you’re not good enough. It’s just that you don’t seem like you belong in his circle.”
“It’s true. I don’t belong in his circle. It’s only because we went to the same school that we met.”
“No. He is two years younger. We met at a school event.” He Gu thought back to ten years ago and entered a trance.
“And so you became…” Gu Qingpei was embarrassed to finish the sentence. After all, they weren’t very close.
He Gu laughed. “En.”
Gu Qingpei frowned slightly. “Do you not want to have a proper boyfriend?”
He Gu shook his head. “Chief Gu, you know how I am. My personality is boring, and I’m not good at talking to others. I think what I have now is quite good.”
Gu Qingpei looked at He Gu’s expression of forced calmness, and thought back to Song Juhan’s hostile glare that day. A hint of mischief flashed before his eyes, but he didn’t probe further. “True. Aren’t we all just looking for some companionship? But to be honest, even if that’s what you think now, in a few years, it might be different. I used to think that was good too—being free, having no responsibility or commitments. But now, I just want to settle down and find someone to be with properly. People will change.”
“Indeed. When I get to that stage, I will let you know.” If that really happened one day, it would definitely be something to celebrate about.
“So what type do you like? Your qualities are not bad. I can introduce you to some of my friends.” Gu Qingpei then added, “But you better not tell me your type is someone like Song Juhan. I don’t know where to find you someone as handsome as him.” He chuckled to himself.
He Gu smiled back. “Actually, I’m not sure.” What type did I like, He Gu had never once considered asking himself that question. His type had already been defined by Song Juhan many years ago, and Song Juhan was a unique, one of a kind type of man.
“Hm, don’t worry. When you have time, I’ll introduce you to people in our circle. You should really be more involved with the modern times.”
He Gu’s smile faded. Gu Qingpei was right. Maybe if he met more people and experienced more of the world, he wouldn’t desperately hold onto the hope that his relationship would someday turn around. Of course, he didn’t feel like what he had right now was bad at all, but who could truly get exactly what they wanted? He just couldn’t get over a certain someone.
After chatting for a while longer, Gu Qingpei brought the topic back to headhunting. He Gu knew this was what Gu Qingpei was really aiming for, and he might have even purposely exposed his sexual orientation to create a sense of familiarity with him. However, the fact that someone had acknowledged his skills was not a bad thing. The two continued to chat amicably, and He Gu started to feel a bit moved.
After that day, He Gu and Gu Qingpei became closer. He Gu even started to understand more of the company Gu Qingpei was moving to. He Gu thought that after his current projects ended in the new year, he would take some time off and seriously consider his options.
In a few days, it was soon his birthday, and this year, it happened to be on a weekend. Since his father passed away, he had only seen his mother once in the last ten years. Although they kept in touch, it was only the one phone call every year on his birthday, and the red packet he sent on New Year’s day. Even if they talked, there really wasn’t much to talk about, apart from the usual courteous greetings. It was as if their routine phone calls were a business matter that needed to be done based on their blood relationship.
However, this year seemed different. His mother’s voice didn’t sound as energetic as before. In a quiet voice, she asked how he was doing recently.
He Gu frowned. “Mom, are you feeling okay?”
“Oh, just the usual, low blood pressure. How about you?”
“Everything is good.”
“That’s good… You are already 28 years old. Time really flies.”
He Gu heard a soft sigh on the other end of the phone. “Have a good birthday. And remember to wear more clothes, it’s getting cold.”
“Okay. You take care of yourself too.”
After he hung up, He Gu shrunk into the sofa and zoned out for a while.
His parents’ marriage was a complete tragedy. His father was a cowardly yet ambitious professor. His mother was a headstrong woman who couldn’t settle for anything less than perfect. Ever since He Gu could understand the world up to his adolescent period, the two had always quarreled because of their conflicting principles and values. Later, when he heard them quarreling, he would casually walk past the living room to his bedroom to read a book. This family of three lived in a small apartment, but they seemed to be divided into three completely different worlds. It was probably from then that He Gu became a man of few words.
From very early on, he had already been prepared for them to get divorced. However, he never thought that his father would fall sick before they even got divorced. After his father passed away, his mother was like a bird out of its cage, spreading its wings in the wind, and took off to pursue a better life and marriage. Through his relatives, he heard about his mother’s situation. She was strong-willed and capable, with her new husband, they started their own public listed company. However, none of these things had anything to do with him.
Having faced his father’s passing away at an early age, as well as his mother’s disappearance, He Gu had once resented them. But now, he was just numb.
Actually, this was also quite good. At least, he didn’t have to face the disapproval of his parents or relatives because of his sexual orientation.
He picked up his phone and sent Xiao Song a text. “Is Juhan busy today?”
After waiting for half a day, there was still no reply. So he decided to give a call instead, but no one picked up too. He could only give up and go read a book.
Around the afternoon, Xiao Song called him back. “Hello. He Gu-ge, I’m so sorry. We’ve been shooting an MV this afternoon. I didn’t see your call.”
“Don’t worry. Are you guys still busy now?”
“There’s still a little left. Is there something you need?”
“Nothing urgent. We’ll talk after you’re done.”
“Should I tell Han-ge?”
After he hung up, He Gu felt a little disappointed. He should’ve known that Song Juhan wouldn’t remember. This famous celebrity was quite simple-minded and heartless. Even if Song Juhan forgot, he would simply remind him a few times. In this lifetime, the only thing He Gu had in abundance was patience.
When it came to dinner time, He Gu gave Xiao Song a call, but no one answered. He called Song Juhan, but likewise, nobody answered. He shook his phone a few times, and threw it on the sofa. It seemed nothing was going to happen today.
He went to put on an apron and made himself a bowl of longevity noodles1长寿面 -(cháng shòu miàn) A birthday celebratory dish made to wish the person celebrating their birthday a long and healthy life. The long noodles are both ‘long/长’ and ‘skinny/瘦’ – these two chinese characters sound the same with the phrase ‘long and healthy life/长寿’ – hence the name of the dish., with a few slices of meat, sprinkled with some fresh green onions and a fried egg on top. The freshly made bowl of noodles gave off a light and warm fragrance that made him instantly calm down.
Just after he ate two mouthfuls, a noise came from the door, followed by the sound of keys rattling and the doorknob being turned. He Gu stood up abruptly and walked quickly to the door.
The next second, the door opened. Song Juhan wore a pair of sunglasses, a peaked cap, a burgundy down jacket, and dark black jeans that hugged his long and slender legs. Still encased in the chilly air of the cold weather, he appeared in front of He Gu.
He Gu froze in place. It was as if his heart was being gently struck by something, rendering it numb and tingling and lingering with a boundless warmth.
Song Juhan was carrying a pile of things in his hand. “What are you standing dumb there for? Come and take these.”
He Gu reacted, and hurriedly went over to take the bags from him. “What… what are you doing here?”
Song Juhan then had time to take off his sunglasses and cap. “Didn’t you say you wanted me to spend your birthday with you?”
He Gu blinked. He was so happy that he didn’t know what to do.
Song Juhan snorted. “It’s getting colder and colder. After shooting an MV the whole day outside, I’m freezing to death.”
He Gu put down the things and wrapped Song Juhan’s cold hands in his. “The room heating is enough. It will be fine in a while.”
Song Juhan looked into He Gu’s smiling eyes and was in a good mood. With a smile, he said, “Happy?”
He Gu said sincerely, “Happy. I didn’t think you’d remember.”
“I’m not seventy, how could I not remember?” It was actually Xiao Song who suddenly remembered and reminded him, but looking at He Gu who was so happy, there was no need to say it. He pointed at the bag at his feet with his chin. “This is the gift I asked Xiao Song to pick.”
“Thank you.” Even if there were a pile of gold now lying on the ground, He Gu wouldn’t even look down at it. His eyes couldn’t leave Song Juhan. In the past six years, there were moments of warmth like this from time to time. Even if it was only once or twice a year, they were like coals in the middle of winter, enough to warm him for a long time.
Song Juhan took a look at the dinner table. “You’re eating that on your birthday?”
“I didn’t think you’d come.”
“Even if you’re by yourself, you should at least buy a cake.”
“I don’t like sweet food.”
Song Juhan frowned, and said, “Let’s go out. I’ll take you to eat a big meal.”
He Gu pulled him back. “Juhan, it’s cold outside. Let’s not go out. I’ll cook another bowl of noodles. You just have to eat with me.”
Song Juhan crossed his arms and looked at him. “Is this how you want to spend your birthday?”
He Gu nodded. “It’s not bad.”
“Okay, it’s your birthday anyway.” Song Juhan suddenly spotted the big TV in the living room, and his eyes lit up. “You changed the TV?”
“Didn’t you say the previous one was too small?”
“Has the game been updated yet?”
He Gu showed a doting smile. “It’s all updated. Go and play.”
Song Juhan took off his coat and threw it aside, then went to play games.
Looking at Song Juhan nestled in the sofa, his long legs on the coffee table and hands on the controller as he concentrated on the game, the corners of He Gu’s mouth couldn’t help but turn up. This picture was so perfect and so warm; it was as if Song Juhan belonged here, in this house. He smiled and went into the kitchen.
He first made a cup of honey and ginger tea for Song Juhan, then cooked a bowl of noodles and called Song Juhan for dinner.
They sat facing each other, each holding a bowl of longevity noodles and smiling at each other.
He Gu said, “Juhan, I’m very happy that you can come today. Had I known you were coming, I would have prepared more of what you love to eat.”
Song Juhan licked the corner of his mouth, and like a fox, his eyes narrowed slightly. “You are what I love to eat.”
He Gu kept on smiling. “Eat well.”
Song Juhan ate two mouthfuls of noodles, then said, “By the way, do you want to change your car?”
“Hm? Change the car?”
“You’ve had that car for about four or five years, do you want to change it? It’s your birthday, just ask for what you want.”
“No need, I’m used to it.” He was, after all, an employee of a state-owned enterprise, and his current car fit his income and position. If he changed to another one, the impact wouldn’t be very good.
“Then what would you like?”
“Didn’t you buy gifts?” He Gu looked at the pile of gift bags. “I’ll open them later.”
“Those are nothing. You’ve followed me for so many years, no need to be too polite.” Song Juhan stared unblinkingly at He Gu.
He Gu laughed lightly. “I have food, drink, a house, and a car. I can’t think of anything I lack at the moment.”
Song Juhan sneered. “You don’t have to live with such a pure heart and have few desires2清心寡欲 (idiom)- To clear out distracting thoughts, reduce desire for external things, and keep the heart/mind clean.”
Song Juhan often couldn’t see through He Gu. The man was at times simple and transparent, and at other times, he was deeply hidden. Even he himself was surprised that he would keep He Gu by his side for so many years.
“A pure heart and few desires is good for the health.” He Gu spoke in a relaxed tone, obviously in a very good mood.
Materially, he really lacked nothing, but as for spiritual satisfaction, it was something only Song Juhan could give him. Now that the person was right in front of him, this birthday was enough.
After finishing the noodles, Song Juhan drank the honey and ginger tea, and signalling with his eyes, he urged He Gu to open the gifts. He Gu put the gift bags on the coffee table and opened them one by one. There were clothes, ties, watches, cufflinks, belts, and several sets of men’s skin care products. He shook his head helplessly. “Xiao Song, this kid, is more like a gay than me.”
“Oh, drop it. He’s like a puppy when he sees his girlfriend.” Song Juhan picked up some ties at random, and raising them to He Gu’s neck, he compared them with each other. “Mm, being with me for three years, Xiao Song’s taste has gotten much better. Back when he was new, he’d wear large, unpresentable shirts.”
“It’s not like you’re calling him out, so don’t be too harsh on him. I think he’s doing quite well.” Taking advantage of Song Juhan’s good mood, He Gu quickly put in a couple of good words for Xiao Song. In all fairness, Xiao Song was a good person. He was soft-tempered, clever, hard-working, and above all, tolerant. Song Juhan could probably never find a more suitable assistant.
Song Juhan smiled. “En, he’s doing a good job. I’ll give him a raise on the New Year3Referring to Chinese New Year.” Song Juhan tugged on his tie, and He Gu leaned forward, pressing their warm lips together.
Somehow, Song Juhan remembered the kiss between He Gu and Zhuang Jieyu, and he felt unhappy. Pressing on the back of He Gu’s head, he sucked hard on those soft lips. He pried open his teeth with the tip of his tongue, then wantonly entangled inside.
He Gu’s eyes widened. Song Juhan rarely kissed seriously. Most of the time, it was just a prelude to s*x. His focus on this kiss was both surprising and enjoyable to He Gu.
He Gu stopped thinking about it and hugged Song Juhan’s neck, savoring this rare indulgent kiss.
Song Juhan stroked his back and said under his breath, “I’ll give you one last chance. What do you want for your birthday?”
“I want you.” He Gu pressed Song Juhan’s shoulders and pushed the man down on the couch.
As their desires thickened, the phone suddenly rang out of nowhere. He Gu was getting lost in lust, so when he realized it was his own phone, he didn’t want to answer it. Song Juhan also naturally didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere, but the caller was really stubborn. After not being picked up once, there was a second call. And when it still wasn’t picked up, there was a third call.
Song Juhan finally got annoyed. He straightened up and grabbed the phone on the coffee table. “Who the fuck is so blind…”
He froze when he saw the name on the caller ID.
He Gu’s face was red, and breathlessly, he asked, “Who is it?”
In an instant, Song Juhan’s face went from frolicking in the spring to freezing in the ice. He said in a deep voice, “Feng… Zheng?”