Day 12 15:18
This unfamiliar name was just like a splinter, gently pricking the pit of Song Ran’s stomach—the kind of rotting splinter on an old wooden chair that would stab into the flesh, and while it couldn’t be described as very painful, nor did it cause any bleeding, one had no choice but to notice it.
Song Ran knew that he was still a long way off from understanding He Zhiyuan.
The He Zhiyuan on the phone was only one part of his internal self, involving personality and temperament, and was relatively pure; the actual He Zhiyuan’s composition was even more complex, with his external self involving appearance, profession, interests, romantic history… In this regard, he was ill-informed, or in other words, he knew nothing about it at all.
Perhaps they had gotten together too quickly, and there wasn’t enough trust between them yet. When the time was right, He Zhiyuan would naturally entrust Song Ran with everything he was willing to say, but Song Ran could no longer wait.
He had a strong desire to probe into He Zhiyuan’s past, particularly what had happened after the painting of the small footprints appeared.
Who was this girl? Was she Mr He’s daughter?
If she wasn’t, why would she be together with Bubu from birth?
If she was, then where was she now?
Song Ran made countless guesses in the span of a few minutes, each one wilder than the last, which caused him to become greatly anxious; however, the answer could only be known by asking Mr He.
Through the frame’s glass, he traced that pair of small emerald green footprints with his fingers, feeling that they stepped on his own heart one step at a time.
When He Zhiyuan called in the afternoon, Song Ran was curled up on the sofa in his own home and lazily stroking the cat. The stroking made him happy, and being stroked made Bu Doudou even more happy; its four feet pointed skyward, its belly was exposed, and it meowed while acting cutely. Song Ran and the cat meowed back and forth for so long that when he picked up the phone, he couldn’t refrain from unconsciously meowing.
He Zhiyuan laughed and said, “You’ve become a spirit?”
Song Ran bit down on his errant tongue and also began to laugh. “How would I dare to? After the state was founded, animals aren’t allowed to become spirits, so I’m still obediently pretending to be a cat.”
So He Zhiyuan teased him. “Then quietly make that sound again. I won’t let other people hear it.”
“No no no, it’s so embarrassing.”
When Song Ran wasn’t thinking about it, he could still meow, but once he realised it, there was a hundred-percent likelihood of stuttering. He hastily implored, “I won’t keep joking with you. It’s me, it’s me, your Song Ran.”
The last three words were clear and cute, popping out one at a time like chocolate chips and sweetly entering his ears.
As He Zhiyuan drank a mouthful of wine, he picked out the key point and repeated it. “Mm-hm, my Song Ran.”
His tone of voice had a more profound meaning.
Feeling his cheeks heat up, Song Ran stuck his head into the thick cat fur, burying it for a good while before embarrassedly lifting it back up, eyes cast downwards and the corners of his lips slightly curving up. “Was… was your work tiring today?”
“It was all right, about the same as the previous few days. It’ll be fine once I’m used to it. The work is almost finished as well, so the pressure is not as great as it was at the start.” He Zhiyuan replied to him, then changed the topic. “How about you? How long have you been tidying up at home, the whole day?”
Song Ran held the cat’s paws and rubbed them. “No, I’ve only been busy for half the day. We finished tidying up at noon, and I took Bubu to buy groceries in the afternoon. We bought half a jin of live shrimp and a jin of river snails that I haven’t cooked yet, so we’re keeping them in a basin for the time being. Bubu quite likes them—he played on the balcony by himself for half an hour and still wasn’t satisfied… Oh, that’s right, I’m planning to set up a fish tank in two days to have Bubu learn to raise fish and shrimp by himself so that when the kindergarten assigns lifestyle homework in the future, there can be a little more source material. Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay.” He Zhiyuan readily gave his consent. “The balcony is quite large and completely empty, so you can develop it however you like. If you’re willing, you can also take care of the master bedroom’s small balcony and arrange some ornaments that you like. I didn’t pay it much mind when I lived alone, so I hadn’t really decorated it before. I’ll be counting on you to take care of it.”
The master bedroom.
Song Ran recalled that enormous two-person bed, and the base of his ears reddened. “Okay.”
The bed is mine, the balcony is mine, the master bedroom is mine, and even Mr He is mine… Song Ran smiled so widely that he couldn’t close his mouth. He used greater hand strength to rub the cat, and the indignant Bu Doudou aimed a kick at his face.
Hearing his yelp of pain, He Zhiyuan laughed under his breath, but he felt a bit of an unstoppable weariness wash over him.
He truly wanted to go home and rest.
The video that Little Q had taken today was being projected on the living room’s white walls in a panoramic view; the lights and colours were completely reproduced, illuminating the late night on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In his nightgown, He Zhiyuan sat on the sofa as he watched the lively youth and the child move around near him.
This was a beautiful sunny day.
At ten o’clock in the morning, the sunlight was clear and warm, and the table, chairs, cupboards, and floor had already been wiped completely free of dust. While tunelessly humming an unnamed little melody, Song Ran strolled in from the opposite doorway with a small glass bottle that served as a fish tank in his arms and put it on the windowsill. The aquatic plants in the bottle undulated, a few small fish swam amongst them, and the tiny waves in the water refracted the sunlight, displaying a gorgeous rainbow.
Besides the windowsill, the dining table had some new decorations as well.
A set of plain porcelain flower vases that held one sunflower, one Casablanca, and scattered bunches of baby’s-breath.
A set of three mugs of varying sizes, all of them shaped like cute animals, accompanied by a small wooden spoon.
A set of three-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, the contents of which were colourful small forest animals. Bubu was sitting at the dining table, holding small art scissors in his hand as he cut out the shapes one by one and then propped them up one by one, arranging them into groups—chipmunks and grey squirrels together, sheep and goats together, and rabbits of all shapes and sizes together.
The background noise was constantly interspersed with soft cat sounds. Occasionally Little Q would move to a different place and the calling sounds would quieten, but they’d very quickly start up again. This cat seemed to particularly like Little Q—t would chase after Little Q like a shadow, and the fluffy long tail would wave in front of the camera lens from time to time; it was extremely amusing.
He Zhiyuan couldn’t hold back his smile.
From the first second the video started broadcasting to now, he saw the style of his home slowly change with his own eyes. The changes weren’t complicated—they were all in the minor details—but it had a warm home-like atmosphere that wasn’t there before.
He began to anticipate the half-month vacation that would come after the press conference ended.
“Mr He, when I was tidying the master bedroom this morning… I discovered some things.” On that end of the phone, Song Ran saw that the atmosphere was still amicable, so he pretended to accidentally bring up the topic. “On the wall, there’s a painting of two young children’s footprints. Do you… recall it?”
He Zhiyuan frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Song Ran anxiously paused and internally struggled for a few seconds before hesitantly saying, “I-I’m a bit curious about that painting, particularly the name Ashley. Mr He, is that your daughter? Bubu’s younger sister?”
He Zhiyuan didn’t immediately reply.
He picked up the remote control that was on the coffee table and pressed the pause button, stopping the projected image at a certain random moment.
Silence returned to the living room. A small night light next to the sofa radiated a warm glow, casting clear shadows on He Zhiyuan’s well-defined face. He reached up to press the centre of his brow, suddenly feeling exhausted—some unpleasant past events once again appeared before him, vivid in his mind and stubbornly persisting.
“This matter is a bit complicated to talk about, so I very rarely mention it to people. Of course, if you’re interested, I can explain it to you.”
His tone of voice was calm.
Sensing the reluctance beneath the calm, Song Ran hurriedly said, “No, there’s no need. If you don’t think it’s convenient, whether you explain it later or don’t explain at all, I don’t mind either way… After all, it’s your personal matters, so I shouldn’t pry too much.”
He Zhiyuan shook his head and laughed in spite of himself. “Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that it’s inconvenient to talk about, I’m just afraid you would laugh at me once you know.”
“How could I!”
Song Ran was flabbergasted.
He Zhiyuan then stood up and pushed open the sliding door leading from the living room to the backyard. A cool breeze blew in, lifting up the curtains on either side. He leaned against the door, swirled the wine glass in his hand, and said, “Song Ran, we once argued over the phone. I said that I hadn’t planned to have children before the age of thirty-five and that Bubu was a complete accident. At the time, you berated me for not wearing a condom when making love and said that not even condoms could control my dick. Do you still remember?”
Song Ran was slightly stunned. When he thought back, it seemed that he had indeed scolded He Zhiyuan so crudely, and he immediately smacked his own face with the palm of his hand. “Th-this… Don’t bring it up anymore…”
How come you’re still thinking about those nonsensical words that I practically want to bury in a hole?
He Zhiyuan said, “In truth, there’s something you may not know—wearing condoms isn’t a hundred percent safe, because sperm that is sufficiently healthy can survive in a condom for several hours.”
Song Ran’s eyes widened suddenly.
He only realised this sentence’s meaning after a very long time and was so astonished that his expression shattered. “M-Mr He, you’re saying… Bubu w-was… his mom u-used what you released in the condom…”
He Zhiyuan nodded.
Amidst his astonishment, Song Ran continued, “But why would she do this? To have children or not, shouldn’t there be mutual respect between husband and wife? If you didn’t want to have any, no matter how badly she wanted to have one, she shouldn’t use this kind of method to become pregnant… No no no, that’s not right. She wanted children, so she became pregnant with Bubu and hid it from you, and then you two had a falling-out, divorced each other, and separated. Then why did she leave Bubu to you to raise instead of taking him away? This doesn’t make sense!”
He Zhiyuan listened to his wild guesses that dispersed limitlessly in different directions, then promptly interrupted him. “Song Ran, I haven’t been married before.”
Song Ran changed the direction of his thoughts. “She wanted to compel a marriage by using a child?”
Song Ran really could not guess what it was.
He Zhiyuan looked at the unsteady shadows in the wine glass, his expression indescribably apathetic.
He said in a low voice, “Bubu was a child that his mother desired very, very much, but what she desired was only a child, and that desire didn’t include me. In fact, she never loved me—Song Ran, she’s the same as you, an innately gay person.”
As though he’d been hit by lightning, Song Ran was struck dumb.
This was not a past event that could be easily recounted.
Especially for a man as strict and self-disciplined as He Zhiyuan, the words ‘been tricked by a lesbian for his essence’ were an understatement and carried with it the strong sense of humiliation.
It wasn’t that he lacked vigilance, it was just that this matter was so ridiculous that it was not within the scope of his defences.
On the flight from Dallas to San Francisco six years ago, when that gentle and beautiful teary-eyed young lady handed over a moistened towelette to express her goodwill, there was no way He Zhiyuan could have thought that all the value he had in her eyes was merely that of a sample of high-quality sperm and nothing more.