T/N: I opted to not mark this chapter as NSFW because nothing really happens per se, but it does get a little suggestive so maybe don’t read it in public haha. (Also, I noticed that this novel is now on more than a thousand reading lists on NU, so thanks for that!)
Day 06 18:00
He Zhiyuan left work in the middle of the night. As was his usual routine, he did twelve sets of bench presses at the company gym, then drove home while reeking of sweat, took a simple hot shower, and picked up a towel. As he rubbed his hair, he went to the kitchen to pour some red wine.
Because the weather was cold, he wanted to drink something warm, so he took out a soup pot and some cinnamon, cut a few slices of oranges, and began to make mulled wine.
There was nobody else in the house, so he dispensed with his nightgown and only wore a pair of dark grey underpants, leaving his upper body bare and revealing the strong muscles of his arms and torso. His long legs stood upright, presenting lean and sexy lines.
Over the past five years, He Zhiyuan had constantly maintained a regular exercise habit. While exercise did a great deal of good for one’s health, it also had its troublesome parts—it promoted hormone secretion, making his libido constantly stay at a high level. He Zhiyuan was busy with work, so he had no time to fall in love. He had a body with infinite vigour, but no physical bed companion with whom he could share happiness.
Once the busy day was over and night had fallen, he would always feel lonely.
Self-discipline and physical appetites—this was currently the true portrayal of He Zhiyuan. He was like a firecracker locked away in a safe—hot oil had clearly been poured on the wick, and it would catch on fire as soon as it was lit, but it could only let out a suffocated muffled sound.
He didn’t know when he would have time to fall in love again, and he also didn’t know if he would get married in this lifetime.
Without marriage, it meant that he would never have that sort of thing where a warm person would wait for him to return home in the evening, prepare a change of clothes for him after a bath, or wordlessly hold and comfort him. There also wouldn’t be a person who would walk out of the room after coaxing Bubu to sleep, be pressed against the wall and deeply kissed by him, kissed until the tides of ardour surged and neither party could control themselves, then roll together with him onto the bed, naked. Skin against skin, muscles and bones rubbing against each other, and reaching climax together amidst a frenzied rhythm.
He had things that most people didn’t have, such as a career that he could be proud of, a social status that was respected by others, and wealth that grew without end. But on the contrary, the things that most people had, he didn’t have.
For example, family.
The wine in the pot began to bubble, its fragrance overflowing. He Zhiyuan poured out half a cup, returned to the living room sofa, and sat down. The arousal between his legs still hadn’t faded; his underwear bulged, forming a large prominence.
He looked at it and rather helplessly drank a mouthful of wine.
When he was young, he was utterly dauntless, travelling the length and breadth of the country with only himself, a car, and a messenger bag, but now… Even he had gotten to the age where he craved stability.
As the red wine gradually disappeared, the laptop on the coffee table suddenly played a notification sound, and a message then popped up in the upper right corner of the screen: Safely arrived home! (/husky.jpg)
When He Zhiyuan saw those words, the corners of his lips quirked up, and his downcast mood was cleanly swept away.
The first message disappeared, and a second message popped up on the screen immediately afterwards: Bubu just finished taking a bath, and now he has fallen asleep while holding his new toy. Papa He, please rest assured! [message attachment.jpg]
He Zhiyuan moved the mouse and clicked on the picture.
In the picture, Bubu held a stuffed rabbit in his arms as he slept comfortably in Song Ran’s bed. His little cheek sank into the pillow and his mouth was slightly open with one of the rabbit’s ears inside. His cheeks were rosy, and pitch-black strands of hair were stuck to his face; he looked sweetly childish and at peace.
Smiling, He Zhiyuan took out his cell phone and called Song Ran.
At this time in China, it was exactly six o’clock in the evening. Song Ran was making soup while holding an apple with his mouth, but upon seeing the incoming call from He Zhiyuan, he hurriedly spat out the apple and pressed the answer button.
This whole time, he had a little obsession with the matter of ‘He Zhiyuan taking the initiative to call him’; this was most likely because he had previously been hung up on three times, which made him feel unsettled. He thought that Mr He should take the initiative to call him three times before this account could truly be written off.
This was the first time.
Song Ran made a check mark in his imaginary accounting record book, then smoothly turned down the heat to the lowest setting, ran to the living room, jumped onto the sofa, and sat down cross-legged before beginning to report today’s interesting activities to He Zhiyuan.
After animatedly conversing for a few minutes, he received a new email on his computer—it was a zipped folder of Happy Valley photos that Lin Hui had sent. Without even looking, Song Ran asked for He Zhiyuan’s email address and directly forwarded it to him. He was planning for the two of them to look through the photos together while they chatted and select a few of the photos where Bubu looked the cutest to make a photo album that they could use as a decoration for their home in the future.
The unzip progress bar swiftly filled up. Song Ran happily clicked on the folder and scanned the thumbnails, then suddenly froze up, his expression instantly becoming extremely embarrassed.
“Mr He, I… I seemed to have sent the wrong thing. Don’t look at that email for now! Delete it, delete it, I’ll send you the right one later!”
He held the mouse, so flustered that he didn’t know where to click.
Unfortunately, his internet speed was too fast; before he had finished speaking, new thumbnails had already begun appearing, row by row, on He Zhiyuan’s screen.
After seeing those photos, He Zhiyuan immediately understood why Song Ran was anxious.
Amongst the hundred or so photos, there were perhaps a dozen or so, sparsely scattered throughout, in which Bubu was the main focus. The remaining ninety percent all featured Song Ran—Song Ran, whom Lin Hui had photographed with a camera lens full of love.
In the first one, the handsome boy was looking into the distance, the corners of his lips curled upwards in a smile. His eyelashes were long and curving upwards, framing a gentle gaze; the sunlight lent colour to his eyes, and a soft halo of light reflected off his skin.
He Zhiyuan knew that the place where Song Ran’s line of sight landed must have been his Bubu.
The display switched to the next picture. Song Ran was half-kneeling on the ground, and Bubu was standing in front of him, wrapped in a big towel that dragged on the ground and with his shirt and pants both soaked through. On his head, there were still a few errant locks of wet hair. While Song Ran’s expression was worried and helpless, Bubu was grabbing his own hair and giggling at him.
Such a mischievous child—after being spoiled for only a few days, he had become infinitely arrogant, causing nothing but trouble for others.
With a smile breaking out on his face, He Zhiyuan selected another photo at random. At the moment that it entered his view, his gaze abruptly froze, and a fierce heat unexpectedly rose up in his lower abdomen.
The content of the photo was very simple: it only showed Song Ran’s facial profile—he was eating an ice cream cone.
The camera lens was very zoomed in. A bit of crushed almonds and white cream was stuck next to his lip, and he was sticking out the tip of his bright red tongue to touch the side of the scoop of vanilla; a layer of cream on the verge of dripping softened, covering his tongue.
It was clearly just a simple movement, but it was inexplicably provocative.
He Zhiyuan got even harder.
When he discovered this embarrassing situation, he looked down at his own underwear, which had become pushed out of shape by his member, and was genuinely stunned for a long time.
“Mr He, Mr… Mr He?” Song Ran’s voice was transmitted over the phone, “You wouldn’t have happened to have already opened it, have you?”
“Mm-hm, I opened it.”
He Zhiyuan was still staring at his own underwear, gaze unfathomable.
Song Ran clutched his face in his hands and said despairingly, “Don’t!”
Lin Hui, can you see what you’ve done now?
There’s no problem if you like me. I won’t say anything if you secretly take pictures of me either, but shouldn’t you hide all the secretly-taken photos? Why would you send them to me? It doesn’t matter that you sent them, but you didn’t even let me know ahead of time. With a twitch of my hand, they’ve all been sent to Mr He now. How can I face him?
Through the cracks between his fingers, Song Ran saw his own brightly-smiling face and felt so ashamed that he only wanted to hang up.
But in the dark living room on the other side, He Zhiyuan sat alone on the sofa, tilting his head back and adjusting the rhythm of his breathing—his lust had been aroused by Song Ran’s photo, and it surged up even more fiercely because of Song Ran’s voice. This was not only completely unexpected, it also absolutely should not have happened.
Song Ran was a man, a neighbouring young man whom he wasn’t too familiar with yet.
This young man really was cute and kind-hearted, with a warm and forthright disposition; in all aspects, he appealed to He Zhiyuan. Over the phone, their interactions were very pleasant, but he shouldn’t have had impure thoughts as a result of them.
Because all the signs indicated that Song Ran must be straight.
In the following second, his fingertip accidentally swiped the touchpad and caused the email to scroll down very far. A chunk of text, hidden below several dozens of empty lines, jumped out.
To the handsome and charming and cute Song Ran:
Although you turned me down, I still like you. Attached are the photos I took for you today, which contain various styles, poses, and expressions. As long as you post them to your friend circles, even straight guys will turn gay!
I hope for my dear ketchup to find a biiiiiiiig fry soon!
From, Lin Hui
‘Straight guys’, ‘turn gay’, ‘ketchup’, ‘big fry’.
Four key phrases simultaneously burst into his field of vision. He Zhiyuan was practically stunned. He unconsciously pressed down on his nose, then rubbed his eyes, reading the email word by word three times before uncovering the gist of Lin Hui’s message.
Song Ran liked men.
His heart suddenly skipped a beat, as if some kind of blockage had been shovelled away, and his train of thought became incomparably clear.
Song Ran didn’t know about the text in the email; he simply noticed that He Zhiyuan didn’t reply for a long time and assumed the other man was truly angry. He hurriedly said, “Actually, there are quite a lot of Bubu’s photos in there. If the ones sent by Lin Hui aren’t enough, there are many more on my cell phone. Shall… shall I send them to you now?”
But He Zhiyuan didn’t answer his question. “That young lady confessed to you again today?”
Song Ran froze. “Y-yes.”
How did you know?
“Did you agree to it?”
Song Ran shook his head. “I didn’t.”
He Zhiyuan paused, then asked again, “She seems to really like you a lot. How come you didn’t consider it?”
Not understanding how the conversation topic had changed to Lin Hui, Song Ran anxiously rubbed his hands together and explained, “She’s pretty cute and wasn’t lacking in any way. I didn’t agree to date her, mainly because… uh, because… I, I’m…”
Hemming and hawing, he said ‘I’ for a long time without it resulting in anything.
He Zhiyuan had asked this initially out of a selfish desire to lure Song Ran out of the closet, but as soon as he noticed Song Ran’s struggles, he no longer had the heart to do so. How much pressure the other man had to bear and how much mental preparation he had to make beforehand to come out of the closet—he could imagine all of it. To push Song Ran into the difficult choice of ‘lie or come out’ in a few short seconds, he felt it was too cruel.
“Song Ran, I apologise. This is your personal matter, and I shouldn’t have taken the liberty of overstepping your boundaries.” He Zhiyuan said, “You don’t need to reply. Let’s change the topic and continue to chat about the amusement park.”
But Song Ran murmured, “No, Mr He. This… I should have come clean to you a bit earlier.”
His body stiffened up. His fingers clenched around the pillow, nearly piercing through the linen, and he shut his eyes in fear. After stewing for a long time, he braced himself, then said through gritted teeth, “I didn’t accept Lin Hui’s confession because I don’t have any interest… in girls.”
Hearing it, He Zhiyuan felt his heart squeeze tight. “Song Ran, do you mean what I think you mean? You like…”
“I like the same sex. Mr He, I’m homosexual.”
After saying it, Song Ran’s entire body was like a broken rubber band; he flopped back onto the sofa and dejectedly covered his eyes with a hand.
It was like this again.
Once again, he said something completely unnecessary.
The relationship between Mr He and him had only been restored for two days, yet he had once again lost control and voluntarily shoved his most deeply-hidden secret at the other party. The first dispute was a small matter, nothing more than an issue of emotions, and Mr He had already magnanimously pardoned him. But this time, Mr He might not necessarily be broad-minded enough to tolerate his attraction to the same sex.
Why did he have to say the truth?
There were so many reasons for rejecting a girl: being unable to see eye to eye, incompatible personalities, or incompatible goals. Any one of them would have worked—even one having a preference for sweet food while the other had a preference for spicy food could have been used to deflect the issue. Wasn’t it obviously a very simple matter to find any random reason to evade it?
Song Ran squeezed the pillow in his arms, fingertips trembling. Feeling flustered, he didn’t dare to listen to He Zhiyuan’s reply from the other side of the phone at all. After a moment, he forced himself to face the music and put the receiver back to his ear, managing to catch a few words.
But they were by no means hurtful.
In a gentle tone, He Zhiyuan said, “Song Ran, I know that approximately seven percent of the human population is homosexual—but around me, this proportion seems to be strangely high. When I was in university, my room-mate, TA, and advisor were gay. Later, when I started entrepreneuring, the original team had a total of five people, three of whom were gay. Now I’ve moved back to China and encountered a little neighbour with whom I get along well, who happens to also be gay. Say, isn’t it pretty fateful for us?”
His words were spoken very calmly and gently, without a hint of unpleasantness.
Song Ran could tell that Mr He was doing everything in his power to comfort him, and he was momentarily touched to the point of wanting to cry. His voice was watery, so he didn’t dare to say much in response, instead simply replying in a small voice, “Mm.”
He Zhiyuan laughed. “What, it sounds like you’re about to cry… Were you afraid I would be disgusted with you because of this?”
“Mm, a little.”
Consequently, He Zhiyuan laughed again. “It seems that I need to introduce you to someone—his name is Carl Kraus, my friend of nine years from when I was at Berkeley. He’s the same as you, also attracted to the same sex. Every summer, he would take part in San Francisco’s Pride Parade. In my university freshman and sophomore years, he was single, so he’d drag me to play the role of his ‘same-sex partner’. Making use of the opportunity, I participated in dozens of LGBT activities in those two years, volunteered, and even educated others.
“I didn’t know much about this group in the past, but after making more friends with various orientations, I slowly realised that everyone’s natural instincts and choices are worthy of respect. With regard to any sexual orientation, I won’t be prejudiced.”
“Pride Parade… I’ve heard of it.” Song Ran said, “Every one of them is very brave, with how they mutually encourage and lift each other up and generously acknowledge sexualities without fearing other people’s gazes.”
He Zhiyuan smiled and said, “Song Ran, you are also very brave.”
“Nonono, I’m not brave at all.” Song Ran continuously shook his head. “Actually, as soon as I finished saying it just now, I regretted it, thinking I shouldn’t have told the truth at all and that I should have made up some other reason and lied to you. I… I’m a particularly cowardly person.”
He Zhiyuan shook his head and said mildly, “Protecting yourself is more important than being brave—this is prudence, not cowardice. The weight of the burden on each person’s shoulders is different. Some people boldly come out of the closet because their environment is tolerant enough. If you risk getting hurt by coming out, you don’t have to force yourself to do it, especially to people outside of your family. At all times, your safety is the first priority, understand?”
“Y-yes.” Pursing his lips, Song Ran was unable to stop himself from rubbing his face against the cell phone. In a whisper-soft voice, he said, “Mr He, you’re a really good person.”
This sentence, spoken with an unconscious sweetness, immediately caused He Zhiyuan to give a start. His ears felt numb and tingly, and his body’s reaction became even more intense. He pressed a hand to the centre of his brow; at first, the expression on his face was a little helpless, but afterwards he simply smiled.
He really had no resistance to Song Ran’s unintentional flirtation at all.
Song Ran, who had successfully turned the tables, wasn’t feeling too comfortable at this time either.
Barefoot, he curled up on the sofa, feeling a slight chill on his skin as well as a bit of hollowness that was hard to endure. Despite tightly hugging the pillow, he wasn’t satisfied by it.
He Zhiyuan’s words of comfort were like a warm and trustworthy stuffed bear; they made him relax and sink into them, treat them as a reliable haven, and enjoy the feeling of being forgiven and protected.
It would have been nice if Mr He wasn’t on the other end of the phone.
If Mr He were in front of him, he would definitely let go of the pillow and go ask for a comforting hug, skin sticking to skin. Only then would his heart be filled to the brim.